Celebrate New Year's Day Greek Style!
Updated: Apr 27, 2021
It is traditional in Greece to welcome the New Year with a Vasilopita.
Vasilopita, depending on the region of Greece, is usually an orange scented cake or bread. The one thing that every Vasilopita has in common is the lucky gold coin which is hidden inside!
According to custom, the head of the house, usually the father, first makes the sign of cross on the cake and starts cutting piece by piece the Vasilopita, devoting each piece to each family member. However, the very first piece is always devoted to Jesus Christ, the second one to the family home, then slices are given to all present, beginning with the parents, the eldest of the children and ending with youngest. The person who receives the slice containing the coin is traditionally considered to be especially blessed for the New Year.
There are many stories about the origins of the Vasilopita and how it is named in honour of Saint Basil (Αγιος Βασίλης/Agios Vasileios)
In the case of Saint Basil's origin story, the word Vasilopita translates to Basil Pie (Basil / Vasili + Pie / Pita eg Basil's Pita).
However, the word itself comes from the combination of the words vasileus (king) and pita (pie). Therefore, Vasilopita is a "Pie for a King".
So why do Greeks honour Saint Basil on New Year's Day?
MEET SAINT BASIL
St. Basil was born in the year 330 AD in the city of Caesarea, Asia Minor
Saint Basil was later ordained as the Archbishop of Caesarea in 370 A.D.
Saint Basil formulated the rules and regulations for the monks of his day, and these rules still prevail in most of the Christian monasteries of the world.
It is said that he loved children and always assisted the sick and the homeless.
He was the first bishop to establish orphanages and hospitals and old age homes.
He died on January 1, 379 A.D.
In Greece, Saint Basil / Αγιος Βασίλης is the equivalent of Santa Claus. Not the Coca Cola manufactured chubby jolly fellow wearing a red suit with a big white beard that you were expecting? Quite the opposite in fact. Saint Basil is the one who distributes the gifts to the children, but on New Year's Eve, rather than Christmas.
According to one version of the folklore...
In the 4th century A.D., during a terrible famine, the emperor Valens imposed a new tax to the already impoverished people. The excessive tax was such a burden on the families, so to avoid debtor's prison, each family gave up whatever coins they had left as well as precious family heirlooms. Saint Basil appealed to the emperor to reverse his decision. The emperor changed his mind and handed back chests filled with coin and jewellery to Saint Basil to redistribute back to the people.
Saint Basil was now left with the dilemma, and the impossible task of returning the coins and jewellery to their rightful owners.
After much prayer, Saint Basil had all the treasures baked into one huge "bread". He then called all the townspeople to prayer at the Cathedral Church and, after the Divine Liturgy, he blessed and cut the "bread" or "pita", giving a slice to each person.
Remarkably each owner received in his slice of Vasilopita his own valuables!
Saint Basil died on January 1st 379 AD. and the Greek Orthodox Church celebrates his memory on January 1st. That is why presents are exchanged on New Year's Eve.
The Vasilopita is always made in a round shape. It can be a bread, sweet or savoury. I also read that until the 19th century, in Arcadia (Peloponnesos) the coin was put into the vasilokota, a stuffed hen! It has also come in the form of loukoumades (Aegean Islands) and even halva (regions of Asia Minor).
My mother started making an orange infused sweet bread which was topped with flaked almonds. During the years, she evolved her recipe and it has now become an orange infused cake, topped with almonds.
I've adapted mum's recipe to include almond meal in the recipe and I usually dust a stencil with the New Year with icing sugar on top.
Our previous Vasilopites...
This year however, I'm going to use flaked almonds to write "2020" and omit the icing sugar on top. Please check out our social media pages to see more details.
Yianni & I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your support during this first year of our fundraising project to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis research.
Let's Eat! - A Collection of Family Recipes is creating a cookbook which will be released in 2021 with 100% of the proceeds going directly to MS Research Australia.⠀
If you would like this recipe, here's what you need to do.