January 1 is St. Basil’s Day and it is an important day, especially in Greece, where his feast day is celebrated as part of the New Year’s Eve festivities. These include card games and other games of chance, a special bread/cake called vasilo-pita, which has a coin inserted into it. The person who gets the coin will have special good luck in the year. The bread/cake is distributed in a ceremonial way. The head of the household makes a sign of the cross over the bread/cake. The first slice is for Christ. The second is for St Basil. The third is for the Virgin Mary. There is often a piece for the poor. The household head gets the next piece and then the whole household in order of age.
One of the miracles performed by Saint Basil, who was born in Caesarea in Cappadocia (modern day Turkey), and who was the bishop there, was the baking of recovered stolen valuables into bread which was sliced. Each person miraculously got his or her own valuables back in the bread.
Greeks wish one another “Chrónia pollá ” (many years) or “Kalí chroniá ” (good year) at midnight. Icons of St Basil are carried into the house by New Year visitors, but the icon is carried with outstretched arms so it enters first.
Windows are opened at midnight to release evil spirits. Sweets are eaten to ensure a sweet new year.
Special carols, called kalanda, are sung. Traditionally these carolers carried with them a paper star, a ship, an orange, an apple, and a green branch from the dogwood tree. The carolers ten bless the house.
The Divine Liturgy written by St Basil is used in the churches and all those named Vasil, Vasili, Vasiliki, Vasilia, Basil and William (the English equivalent) are honoured on their name day – a day for gift giving as well.
This year I have adopted the custom of the vasilo-pita. I will share this cake with all and sundry in honour of my late father, William. I think it would have amused and pleased him.