Greek New Year’s Day Tradition

Hello Friends,

I have a confession to make!

A few years back, on New Year’s Day, I cheated and did not feel remorse at all!  

I felt sooooo good!

Let me tell you what happened.

Continuing the same Greek tradition from the time I was a child,  in our family we celebrate and share gifts on New Year’s Day.

Christmas was purely a religious holiday.

It was always St. Basil who brought presents on his feast day, not St. Nicholas on Christmas. I never understood what St. Nicholas, the saint of the seas, has to do with gifts.

Anyway, our children, young and old, come to our home, looking forward to this gathering of many generations, excited about the gifts they’ll get but also the “coin” as well.   

One of the beautiful traditions of the Greek Orthodox Church is the cutting of the “Vasilopita” or Saint Basil’s Sweet Bread, on the first of the New Year, on St Basil’s feast day.

According to tradition, when the local governor of Caesarea in Minor Asia was pressing for taxes, the people asked St. Basil, bishop of Cappadocia, for help. He advised them to gather their valuables and give them to the governor. 

So impressed, however, was the governor with St. Basil when he delivered the jewels that he did not want any taxes.

St. Basil had some women bake round loaves of sweetened bread and in the bread he hid the jewels. When those loaves were distributed, people were amazed to find in the bread the exact item they had given.

History has it that St Basil, the great philanthropist he was, wanted to distribute money to the poor. Careful not to embarrass anyone with charity, he arranged gold coins in loaves of bread and sent them to the poor. When the families cut the bread, they were pleasantly surprise and grateful to find the coins.

The Vasilopita tradition continues today, with a coin inserted in the baked sweet bread.

The sweetness symbolizes the hope that the New Year will be filled with the sweetness of life, freedom, peace, and happiness for all who participate. Dusted with white powdered sugar, it resembles the snow-covered earth. Pomegranate seeds sprinkled on the platter around the Vasilopita symbolize the abundance we are blessed with.

The older person in the family does the honors of blessing and cutting the bread. The center of the round loaf is offered to our Lord Jesus Christ. Then, wedges are cut around. The  second  piece is offered to the Virgin Mary and the third to St. Basil. After that, cut pieces are passed, beginning with the eldest.

The person who finds the coin is considered Blessed throughout the New Year.

A few years back, one of our oldest grandchildren, Spyros N, six years old at that time, came in the house with a long face. He did not get a coin at his own home celebration or at his maternal grandparents’ gathering.

Yiayia” he said, “I have to get the coin today! My brother was lucky twice already.”  

I should have prayed and left it to God, but, with only one coin in, how would He have satisfied all six of the children?

OK! OK! I guess, I did not have enough faith!

So I took matters in my own hands and went on with the festivities.

After dinner, it was I, not my husband, who blessed and cut the sweet bread. The adults had their piece, but found no coin. I was watching Spyros N. He was happy so far but cautious, as he knew that his older cousin, Spyros P, was next and he could be the one to get the coin.

The anticipation was evident on his face. 

The next slice goes to Spyro P. Before even taking a bite, he breaks the bread apart, and thrilled to find the coin, he lifts it up and exclaims!  “I got it! I got!”

All children were disappointed, but noone like Spyro N. Gloom and disappointment was all over his little face. He was just barely holding his tears.

Without saying anything, I cut the next wedge and hand it over to him. He did not want to touch it. At my insistence, he took a bite. I wish I had a camera right there to capture his expression for ever, as he realized he had bit at a coin.

Soon enough, all the children were shouting with joy and excitement, holding on to their coins!

The years after that one, we blessed everyone with a coin. In return, all of our children, young and old, blessed us back with joy, love, and laughter!

 

This New Year’s Day, I am reverting back to strictly traditional practices. Our grandchildren are old enough now to know they cannot always get what they want. Not finding the coin does not mean they will not be blessed. As long as they keep Jesus in their hearts and their lives, blessings will follow them. It is up to us to persuade them of that.

PLEASE JOIN ME IN A PRAYER!

O Lord our God, bless this New Year by you divine grace. Grand gentle showers unto fruitfulness of the earth.

Send healthful and seasonable weather for man and beast; 

Rear the infants, guide the young, support the aged.

Living in a world of pain, greed, and violence, constantly challanged, can be overwhelming.

Please show us the way inward to our heart, to find Your Divine answers and share with others so that we might help all.

Grand us peace in the face of overwhelm, knowledge in the face of doubt, resourcefulnes in the face of seeming lack, and

help us see the silver lining behind the darkest clouds! 

Accept our prayers and, please Dear Lord, grand this New Year as the beginning of a new world,  where love, compassion, peace and harmony will replace greed, suffering, and violence for all.

AMEN!

 

I wish you all a blessed New Year, full of health, love, prosperity, peace, harmony, and success in all your endeavors!  

Grateful and honored to have you in my life!

I  love to know how you celebrate New Year’s Day!

What traditions are you following from your own culture?

Have you adopted any new? Please share with us!

Katina

About the Author

Katina Vaselopulos

Originally from Greece, Katina Vaselopulos and her husband, have made their home in Chicago for the past 47 years. Their four children and nine grandchildren offer countless adventures. Katina also enjoys cooking and baking, teaching and learning, reading and writing. Her soon-to-be-published book, Sailing Toward Ithaca, takes the reader on a journey through one year of her life. She invites the readers along, to sail through life’s journey open to all possibilities and to nurture relationships with self, others, and God by striving for self-knowledge and inner growth. Other projects include What Is Cooking in Niles, a cookbook of Greek cuisine, and a thesis, “Dostoyevsky’s Major Novels: Polemics against Liberal Thought,” for which she received high honors at Northeastern University of Illinois.

Comments

  1. Nice post Katina!
    Happy New Year to you also!!

    • Thank you Sylvia for visiting! Glad you enjoyed reading about my culture!
      Blessed New Year!

  2. What a wonderful story! I loved learning about your New Year tradition. Have a Happy New Year!!

    • Jennifer, I am so glad you enjoyed learning about Greek traditions.
      You encourage me to post more in the future!

      Blessings for the New Year!

  3. georgia houpis

    Good Job! Happy New Year!

    • Georgia, thanks for coming over for a visit!
      Thanks for the encouragement!
      I wish I knew how do add an image! Not there yet. Hopefully soon.

      Enjoy your wonderful family! Blessings to all for this coming New Year!

  4. I loved this! It was so beautiful. I knew something about the Greek Orthodox Faith, but not this particular tradition. It was really cool to learn about it, and very touching to hear about your grandchildren.

    • Lori, thank you for visiting!
      I am so glad that my post enriched your awareness of Greek culture. Your encouraging comment ispires me to share more about our traditions in the future!
      We love our children. But grand children touch our hearts in special ways. Don’t they?

      You just made me realize that I should ask readers to share their own traditions for this holiday, so that we learn more about each other. I will try doing it now…hopefully I won’t mess things up! :)

      Blessings to you and your family this coming New Year and always!

  5. I love the history and tradition.. lmc

    • Katina,
      I read this more tonight. and I understand better many of the things you are teaching. You are doing fine. I am just a slow learner! Laura

  6. Thank you Laura! So Much!

    If you return to my blog, you’ll love the image I added!
    It took me 40 minutes, but I did it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Love and blessings!

    • Thanks Laura for coming over again!
      I am glad you said teaching and not preaching!
      I just love the pomegranate and wanted to share!
      Noone is slower than I am…Like I said, one step at a time.

  7. Katina – this is a lovely post. I enjoyed hearing about this tradition and learning more about the Greek culture. I wish you many blessings throughout this New Year. I am blessed by coming to know you through Tribe Writers.

    • Joan, thank you for stopping by!
      It is wonderful reading the comments everyone leaves!
      Glad you enjoyed the bits of Greek tradition. You encourage me to share more in the future. I too feel blessed being part of the Tribe. Can you imagine, having a life time getting to know eachother? How wonderful!
      Many blessings Joan to you and your family for the new year!

  8. And You got Disqus working too. Bravo Katina!

    • Thanks Marilyn for coming over!

      Oh, I am doing it! One step at a time! Takes for ever, but getting there! All the “Bravos” help! Thanks!!!!!!!

      Love and Blessings for you and your family for the New Year and always!

  9. Katina, this was a delightful story to read. I enjoyed hearing about your traditions, thanks

    • Christa,
      Thank you so much for finding the time to visit!
      So happy you enjoyed hearing about our New Year tradition and my grandchildren.

      You and the others encourage me to share more about my culture in the future.

      Blessings and love!

  10. Rick Gibbs

    Katina, great post and beautifully designed site! Happy New Year!

    • Thank you Rick!

      Very happy you were able to visit. As for the site…one step at a time. Sooner or later, everything falls into place!

      Blessed New Year!

  11. How interesting to hear about your Greek traditions and how you grew in wisdom through your experiences. I like your conclusion that you don’t need to get the coin to be blessed because indeed we are blessed when we belong to Jesus Christ. Wise perspective to pass on to your grandchildren.

  12. I really enjoyed learning about your family traditions! Thank you for sharing and reminding us that even though we might not have found the coin, we are still so blessed by our Lord and Savior! Happy New Year!

    • Janet, thank you for stopping by!

      I am so glad you enjoyed the post and my family’s traditions.
      I am much more happy you paid attention and were touched by my conclusion.
      Traditions are there for the coherence and continuation of a culture. Finding Jesus though them is great…If not, we have to look in our hearts and the scriptures, because that is where He is.
      Blessings for the New Year!

  13. Sharon, how wonderful you were able to visit! I am grateful for your support, your interest in our Greek traditions, and your very wise comment about my conclusion.
    I have to tell you about another time, in Greece, with my other 3 grandchildren and the New Year coin.
    We have one grandson who at the time was 10 years old and two younger ones, about 3 and 5. One winter, we spend some time there, so I bought three wonderful gold coins with the cross, for the Vasilopita, thinking the children could always wear them round their neck with a chain, and planned them so for the children to find.
    Needless to say, the little ones were thrilled and excited. Dimitri was very upset and loudly voiced his disagreement with my idea, because I “disrespected” the custom and took away the pure excitement one person, child or adult, would have to find it, .
    So I guess, there comes a time that children too mature and understand that traditions are traditions to be kept alive, but the importance and reality lies elsewhere.
    Happy and blessed new year!

  14. Heather Goyette

    What a great post. I loved learning about your family tradition. Great idea on your part too with the coins! Happy New Year!

  15. Heather, thank you so much for stopping by and enjoying one of our traditions.
    I never cheated with my children, but grandchildren, I cannot stand seeing them sad!

    Happy and blessed New Year to you and yours as well!

  16. I enjoyed your post, Katina. I especially liked the part where you gave all your grandchildren a coin. I would have done the same thing. :) I could just see the excitement in their young eyes. I would enjoy hearing more about your family’s traditions.

  17. I am so happy you foud time to visit Anastacia!
    I read your blog with reflections of the passed year. Again, the love, joy, respect, God, sharing, and blessings that are ingrated in your own family, all are inspiring and encouraging that the world will get better as more families like yours are growing on our earth.
    By the way, I could not leave a comment and still cannot download your e-book. It seems to me from the FB comments I read similar to la Greek book I bought in Greece for my grandchildren when younger about fears and how to deal with them. Spider picture included! The children loved it.
    I can see how you would appreciate my family traditions and how you too would create with God the “miracle” of the six coins.
    You bless me with your friendship and encourage me to write; to definitely share more about my culture and family.
    Wish you and your family an abudance of God’s gifts into your life this coming new year and always!

  18. Vasiiliki

    Pomegranate seeds sprinkled on the platter around the Vasilopita symbolize the abundance we are blessed with. I only learned that people broke them for good luck. I never saw it with the Vasilopita. I will share this tradition. Enjoying your positive message…filakia <3

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