In the Eastern Orthodox faith, days that commemorate a particular saint, holy event, or the angels are called feast days. Is it called a feast day because there is a feast? No. Can food be part of the equation? Yes.
The significance of the person, place, or thing being commemorated on a particular date will determine whether a special church service will be conducted on that day. Some feast days are so significant that they may be recognized more than once. Most feast days will fall on a day that isn’t Sunday, so in addition to having a service on the actual day, there is also an “add-on” to the regular Sunday liturgy, which allows more people to partake in the celebration. The Orthodox Church recognizes that people have jobs and can’t always attend a mid-week service. Kind of nice, you know.
If the feast day is in honor of a saint, prophet, angel, or other significant person (like Christ, he’s a bit of a big deal), and you share your name with that individual, the feast day being celebrated is also your “name-day”. This is where the food could come in to play. In Greece and many other Orthodox Christian countries, one’s name-day is often a bigger celebration than one’s birthday. Families will host gatherings to celebrate the name-day of a family member. It’s not a balloons and cake kind of affair, but it’s not unusual for gifts to be brought, especially money for younger children.
The family hosting the name-day celebration will provide their guests with lots of food and drinks. Just like with one’s birthday, the name-day may not fall conveniently on a weekend, so the gathering may be postponed until a more convenient time. However, there is an “expiration date” of 40 days after the actual date. Once that passes, don’t expect any gifts. That’s just rude.
So what do you do if you’re not named after any saint/prophet/angel/Christ himself? Many Greeks have names that date back to antiquity before Christianity even existed. My aunt actually shares her name with the Greek goddess, Persephone. Middle names also count, and most Orthodox Christians will be given a “Christian name” at their baptism, anyway. This becomes the name used for their name-day. Otherwise one could celebrate on All Saints Day, which is on the first Sunday after Pentecost. Since the date for Pentecost is dependent on the date for Pascha (Easter), the date for All-Saints day is, as well. It will usually fall some time in June.
Learn more about specific saints and feast days by visiting http://www.goarch.org which is the website for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in the United States. Under the “Chapel” tab you will see links to information on the liturgical calendar and a “Saint Search”. You can look up information by name, by specific date, or even month. Enjoy!