Vasilopita is one of the most prominent Greek traditions on New Year’s Day.
It is a sweet, bread-like cake that is only made for New Year’s and is only eaten on New Year’s Day. Recipes for this cake differ depending on the family or the region of Greece but in general, it involves flour, eggs, butter, and sugar and is usually finished with a sprinkle of icing sugar.
All About the Vasilopita Tradition
At some point during the first day of January, mostly commonly within the first minute of the year, a family will cut the vasilopita with two slices, making a cross, in order to bring luck and blessings to the home. The trinket is inserted into the dough prior to baking it. The cake is then divvied up so that every family member and guest receives a slice, with the recipients lining up from oldest to youngest.
No one is allowed to look at their piece until everyone is given their piece. Then, once the server or the head of the household gives his or her okay, everyone checks to see if they found the coin. The type of coin contained within the cake varies depending on what’s available.
Some cakes used to have real gold coins, but more normally now its small pieces of change. The type of coin doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the coin is in the cake.
The cake is not only served in Greek households, but also in organisations.
History of Vasilopita
The history of vasilopita can be traced back to the ancient festivals of Kronia and Saturnalia and is connected to a legend of Saint Basil. It is said that he implored the citizens of Cesarea, the place where he was from, to raise money in order to stop a siege. Each citizen was to give whatever they had in the form of coins or jewellery. When the ransom was handed to the siege, those who organised the siege were so shamed by the collective generosity that the siege was cancelled. When Saint Basil attempted to return the valuables to every Caesarean only to realise there was no way to distinguish how to distribute the funds back to the people. To solve this problem, he baked the coins and jewellery into bread and then distributed it all back to the people in that way.
In honour of Saint Basil, or Agios Vasilios, people bake this bread every year. The tradition has evolved from the original story and now whoever finds the coin is said to have good luck for the rest of the year. However, the bread itself does serve as a reminder for all that Agios Vasilios did for people of Greece.