The Unexpected Present

On Name Day, It’s All In The Name

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Today is Yuri’s name day. May 6 is St. George’s Day. Name days, these traditional feast days, hold a unique significance as they commemorate a particular holy person, often a saint or martyr, and celebrate an individual’s given name. They are not just collective holidays marked by national calendars but personal celebrations that transcend race or citizenship, defined by a shared name and rooted in religious traditions, name days in Ukraine, known as “день ангела,” literally meaning “angel’s day,” are not random placeholders. They are personal prophecies, shaping our lives and how we navigate the world and carrying meanings unique to their bearers.

St George’s Day, marked on some calendars as the 23rd of April, commemorates the death of the Patron Saint of England, a figure who symbolized courageous leadership – the triumph of good over evil through courage. According to legend, Saint George of Lydda was born in Cappadocia in modern-day Turkey. Ancient icons depict him on a battle horse, confronting and overcoming a much-feared beast, the dragon. In other accounts, this revered figure was believed to have died around AD 303 after being tortured and executed by Romans in Palestine. The historical context of this day adds to its significance, invoking a sense of respect and admiration for the saint and his contributions, a history that we can all learn from and appreciate.

Pagan rites celebrated spring through this patron of agriculture fields, and the parish priests blessed farmers by sprinkling holy water at four corners of the fields, representing the elements that provide life and nourishment for the parish and their livestock. How ironic that Yuri was taken down in the prime of his music life by the killing fields on the Eastern Shore. Yet he loved being in Nature, loving all the elements, the mountains, forests, and canyons, especially the water. Oceans, lakes, rivers, and streams held immense meaning for him.

On St George’s Day, many people in Ukraine have a unique morning ritual. They walk in the early morning, washing their faces in the fresh dew, which Saint George blessed at the beginning of spring. This tradition, steeped in history and symbolism, is a fascinating part of traditional Ukrainian celebrations. Patronages include agricultural workers, farmers, field workers, soldiers, archers, armorers, equestrians, cavalry, saddle makers, chivalry, peacekeeping missions, sheep, shepherds, and scouting.

Yuri’s youth identity intertwined with scouting and song, fire and water, love and life. Originally named George, his parents immigrated to Trenton, New Jersey, escaping tyranny and bombings that rained upon them during WWII. They hoped that by giving him the American translation, they would help him make an easy American life free of mispronunciations and mistakes. He accepted this without much bother. He had to deal with other nicknames during his 1970s Kinderhook years, like Chonny and Tom Cat. In the 1980s, a forever friend, Yuri Denysenko, convinced him to change his name from George to Yuri legally. He will always be Yuri Bohdan Turchyn. I remember and toast this name day for Yuri. And I will always remember his name.

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