Vasilopita – A New Year’s Day Custom

by Sava

Many of us have traditions in our families that we repeat every year or every holiday and they bring a sort of comfort, mostly because of their familiarity. In an ever changing, fast-paced world, “familiar” feels really good. However, oftentimes as each generation continues the tradition, the reason behind it gets lost and we don’t know “why” we’re doing it other than because we always have! This past Sunday in church, we had our annual New Year celebration of the Vasilopita (St. Basil’s bread). It is a custom that began in the 4th century. Now here is “the why” that I don’t think I ever knew, and yet my mother probably did while she baked this bread every January.

St. Basil the Great was the father of philanthropy (loosely translated from the Greek: friend of the people). In his effort to secretly distribute money to the poor, he commissioned several women in his Diocese to bake sweetened bread. He arranged to place gold coins randomly in these loaves so the families would be surprised to find a desperately needed gold coin in the bread as they cut into it. This bread sustained them in feeding their families as the new year began, and the gold coin into the next few months.

Today, as we celebrate this family tradition of cutting into the Vasilopita, on or about New Year’s Day, there is a certain excitement, especially for the children, to see who gets the piece with the coin in it. This coin is considered good luck to the person who receives it, for the whole year! This is a tradition, I might add, in many other ethnic groups, as well, but called something different.

Now as I sit and eat a lovely piece of toasted Vasilopita, I wish us all a very happy and LUCKY New Year! Chronia Polla!

See you  next time!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

georgia cone January 16, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Chronia Polla!
Sometimes we use the recipe in our cookbook,”A Greek Journey With Fork and Pen”, for sweet bread,Tsoureki,page 83.This bread is most often baked at Easter, but very similar to Vasilopita , but we leave out the lucky coin.
Kali orexi!!!


Sava January 21, 2013 at 4:57 pm

This is quite the versatile bread! Tsoureki is basically a term for sweet bread. The differences are really mainly in appearance. On Easter it is called lambropsomo and it is baked with dyed red eggs on top. On Christmas it is called Christopsomo, “Christ’s Bread” and decorated with a cross on top. On New Year’s Day it is called Vasilopita as written above, with a lucky coin in it. It is always delicious. Some bake it just for Sunday dinner, which is special enough! Please see the recipe in our coobook, A Greek Journey With Fork and Pen, pg. 83. Thanks Georgia, for adding that! Yassou!


Jim Sardonis January 18, 2013 at 6:55 am

I can’t wait to try thus recipe. I’ve already made two great batches of “Mom’s Egg-Lemon Soup” straight from the book (pg. 29)! I always thought it was difficult to make until I had a great recipe to follow.


Sava January 21, 2013 at 4:43 pm

This is such delicious bread. As I mentioned, I love it toasted with butter and sometimes I add honey and cinnamon. Mmmmm…good! Try it! Thanks Jimmy for stopping and commenting. Glad you’re using our cookbook, A Greek Journey With Fork and Pen!


scott cumming January 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm

i will be wanting to buy that book as soon as my next check comes in. meanwhile thanks for the freebies. s.c.


Sava January 23, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Hi Scott, I’m thrilled you plan to order the book! Over 100 recipes in it and lots of our adventures in Greece. I really think you will like it! Meanwhile, try any number of the posted recipes and please let me know how you like them! THanks for stopping by. Yassou!!


Mary Denny March 27, 2013 at 11:57 am

Can’t wait for the book. Congratulations!


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