When the clock 🕰strikes midnight on December 31st, the intoxicating aroma of our Vasilopita, a sweet bread 🥔that has been filling our home all afternoon, reaches its crescendo. Each year, the anticipation of that moment makes our mouths water, a sensory symphony that heralds the arrival of the New Year 🎆.
As the knife cuts into the cake, revealing its deliciousness, the “blessing coin” adds an extra layer of excitement, promising blessings for the lucky one 🍀 whose piece has it, throughout the coming year.
Most often, the New Year’s date sits proudly upon the large cake, giving us a chance to welcome it and get used to seeing it after 365 days of using the previous year’s date.
This cake makes New Year’s Day special, kind of like a Christmas tree 🎄 does on the First Day of Christmas – Christmas Day itself.
History of the Vasilopita
The name Vasilopita comes from St. Vasilios, "Basil," in English (AD 330 to 379). The cake is associated with the celebration of St. Vasilios’ Day in Greece and in other communities around the world on January 1st. Of course, January 1st is also the Gregorian calendar's New Year’s Day, and the Eighth Day of Christmas, the day Jesus was given His name.
St. Vasilios was a fourth-century Christian Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, Asia Minor, modern-day Turkey. He was known for his kindness and generosity towards the poor and was a mighty man in the then one Christian Church.
So the story about the Vasilopita goes like this:
It’s all about St. Vasilios compassionate intervention during a time of famine.
Faced with an oppressive tax imposed by the emperor during the middle of the 4th century, St. Vasilios fearlessly confronted the injustice on behalf of his impoverished flock. Upon the emperor's repentance, the treasures collected were returned to Vasilios in order for him to give them back to the people. However, the challenge of distributing them to rightful owners seemed insurmountable.
After seeking divine guidance, St. Basil had all the valuables baked into a colossal pita – cake/bread. Following a communal prayer and the Divine Liturgy service, each person received a slice… containing, by “chance” their lost possessions – coins and jewelry! To commemorate this God-breathed event and honor St. Vasilios on the day he reposed – Name Day – in AD 379, the tradition of baking this special bread/cake with a hidden coin inside came about.
Greek New Year's Cake and the Lucky Coin – A New Tradition in Your Home?
Perhaps you haven't had the chance to experience the delightful tradition of a Vasilopita yet, and if you're considering it, there's good news – you can embrace it well into the New Year! Throughout January and even into February, you can create this heartwarming cake, complete with a hidden coin, and share the joyous search with your family and friends. It's a wonderful excuse to gather loved ones together and celebrate the unfolding year.
So, welcome 2024 with the timeless Greek tradition of Vasilopita – the New Year's Cake! Who knows, you might be the fortunate one to uncover the coin in your slice, inviting blessings to accompany you throughout the coming 365 days – or at least consider the delightful possibility! It's a truly enjoyable way to kick off the New Year, offering a special something to ponder through the entire year.
How to Celebrate with the Vasilopita?
Now, here's the fun part (after the baking of course, which is coming in a PJ Kabos recipe very soon!). Gather your loved ones and friends, from the oldest to the youngest, including those who may be absent in person but not in spirit. Plan to cut enough slices for everyone around the table, ensuring the entire cake is served. Begin serving the slices one by one, announcing the recipient's name. The excitement builds as each person eagerly inspects their slice, hoping to find the hidden coin. Laughter fills the room as the search for the coin ensues, and the joy multiplies when the coin is shared between two fortunate individuals. It's a heartwarming and interactive experience, a cherished tradition that promises good old-fashioned fun and is eagerly anticipated each year by both the young and the young at heart.
We will be posting the family recipe PJ Kabos’ uses – Olive Oil Yeast Cake – in an upcoming reel. So stay tuned!
We at PJ Kabos wish you and yours a happy and blessed 2024!