What Is an Onomastico?

Today’s blog is about another one of those things you might never know without having lived in Italy for a while, as I don’t believe we have them in the United States (and if we do, why didn’t anyone ever tell me??).

The second or third time I came to stay with my pen pal-turned-boyfriend-turned-husband, I started noticing that sometimes he would call relatives or friends on seemingly random days and give them what sounded like congratulations for something. Finally, I asked him what that was all about, and he said “Oh, it’s so-and-so’s onomastico.”

And, of course, I responded with, “What the heck is an onomastico?”

And now I will tell you what I learned so you don’t have to ask someone else.


What Is an Onomastico?

An onomastico is simply one’s “name day” or “saint’s day.” It celebrates the day of the year that is associated with your given name. To give you an example, everyone named Patrick would celebrate their onomastico on Saint Patrick’s Day.

In Italy, where many (many, many) traditions are rooted in the Catholic faith, almost everyone shares a name with a saint or someone similarly holy, and each of those saints and saint-like figures all have a day of the year in which they are celebrated (I’m not kidding: take a look at an Italian calendar and you’ll see that even the non-denominational ones have at least one saint name listed for every single day).

So, if your name matches a saint’s, you and that saint celebrate on the same day.


But What if I Don’t Have a Saint’s Name?

Unfortunately for us Americans called normal, non-exotic things like “Jessica,” not everyone shares a name with a saint. So, what’s a Jessica to do? Well, technically, those who don’t have a saint name are supposed to celebrate their onomastico on November 1st, All Saint’s Day. But in my experience, you just don’t get an onomastico celebration… which is a bit of a bummer, and you’ll see why in the next section.


How Do You Celebrate an Onomastico?

An onomastico is a lot like a birthday. There are sometimes small gifts, especially for children, and there is usually a family meal so everyone can wish you a happy name day. And there is almost always cake, which is my favorite part!

This tradition is especially important in the south of Italy, where they tend to make a bigger to-do about it. When I was in Sicily this summer and my sister-in-law had her onomastico, for instance, there was ice cream cake, spumante, and a whole lot of extra food. And that was nothing compared to the celebrations for kids!


What to Say to Someone on Their Onomastico

Even if you don’t have an onomastico yourself, you’re going to want to celebrate with others. You’ll want to partake in the cake and the dinner and the cake and the gift-giving and the cake, so you will want to be a good guest. So, how do you wish someone a happy onomastico? Well, there are two ways.

First, you can say “Buon Onomastico,” which just means “Happy Onomastico,” just like “Buon Compleanno” means “Happy Birthday.”

More often, though, I have heard people saying “Auguri!” which means basically “best wishes,” and is a good phrase to memorize because they Italians it for everything from wishing someone a happy birthday to congratulating someone on their wedding or graduation to saying Happy New Year to celebrating someone getting a new car.

Either phrase will work, and either one will be nice enough to earn you a slice of that cake! (Or to just make the person with the onomastico feel special, whichever takes higher priority for you.)


Now that you know how to celebrate someone else’s onomastico, you should check a calendar and see if you have one yourself!


So, do you have an onomastico? How do you celebrate it? Or are you like me, who is destined to just celebrate the onomastico of others? Let us know in the comments!

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