On January 1st, there is a special tradition that has survived through the centuries in Greece. At each home, families gather and cut the vasilopita. This is a pie made of flour, milk, eggs and sugar. In some cases, the pie looks exactly like tsoureki (brioche) and in some other occasions it resembles a cake. Either way, vasilopita tradition is one of the most loved customs all over Greece.
Sweet Start of the Year
When the time comes and the new year arrives, most people celebrate in full glory. They drink wine or even champagne, hugging and kissing each other. Everyone exchanges wishes for a healthy and prosperous year ahead. And then it is time for vasilopita!
The head of the house typically starts slicing the pie, after having named each slice to a specific person. This happens for a very good reason. Inside the pie there is a coin (traditionally a golden coin) and the person who finds the coin is considered lucky for the coming year. So this is a big deal! Everyone wishes to get the coin of the vasilopita … and this is why most families do not limit themselves to just one vasilopita per year!
Vasilopita Tradition over Time
Basil of Caesarea, or else Saint Basil the Great, according to Christian history, is the person responsible for vasilopita tradition. The emperor had asked for taxes, even though the conditions of people in Caesarea were tragic. So Saint Basil did whatever he could, in avoidance of this cruelty. After convincing the emperor of the unjust tax, he was given back all the coins. But it was impossible to hand the coins directly to the people.
What he did was to order small pies, adding the coins inside them. He made pies for everyone and had them delivered to each family. Or according to another version, he baked a huge pie and had all the coins inside. And he cut the slices and gave them to everyone. In this way, the people were given back their coins and could survive the famine.
Enjoy Christmas in Greece and find out more about customs and traditions such as vasilopita, smashing a pomegranate on New Year’s Day outside your front door and many many more!