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Spanish language and costums


Birthdays and celebrations

16.10.09 -

The area of birthdays, anniversaries and celebrations is one where Spain still has some markedly different customs from other places. The most obvious is that where citizens of more northern or less traditionally catholic countries tend to celebrate one special personal day each year, many Spanish celebrate two - their birthday, and their name day, or Saint’s Day. On Monday this week, all the women in Spain whose name is Pilar (and there are a lot, since Pilar is an important figure, being the Patron Saint of the Armed Forces, and her day being Hispanic Day, “Día de la Hispanidad”) will have had phone calls or visits from their friends and family, and will probably have been out for a meal. They may also have received gifts, but what they probably won’t have had is many cards - the Spanish continue to hold out against the birthday card tradition, and even Christmas cards have not taken off here in any very big way. If they went out for a drink with friends, they will have been feted and congratulated, but it will have been Pilar who bought the first drinks for everyone, rather than being plied with drinks by everyone else.

If you want to be made much of, and are happy to pay for breakfast for all your colleagues one day of the year, it is a good idea to share your name with one of the major saints. Everybody in Spain knows when the “Día del Pilar” is, or San Juan, or San José, and they will also know the patron saint of their town, so in the coastal resorts Carmen is unlikely to go unnoticed, and in Malaga, anyone called Victoria can expect her day to be recognized. On the other hand, if your name is Norberto, you will probably need to remind your friends when June 6th is coming up.

Birthdays and celebrations
La Virgen del Pilar Our Lady of the Pillar
Una celebración, una fiesta A celebration, a party
Me llamo Ruth My name is Ruth
Mi santo cae el cuatro de junio My name day falls on June 4th
Una tarjeta de felicitación A card (birthday/name day/anniversary....)
Es nuestra boda de plata It is our silver wedding anniversary
Hoy es mi cumpeaños Today is my birthday
Te invito a una copa I'll buy you a drink

Liz Parry's Spanish Phrase Book is available from