Vasilopitta: Is there a coin in your pie?
“Vasilopitta” is a traditional cake or bread we prepare to welcome the New Year. It is not just a cake though, as a lucky coin lies hidden in it. Vasilopitta means Basil’s pie, and it is dedicated to Saint Vasilis who is venerated on the 1st of January. The cake is decorated with the holy cross or with season’s wishes with icing sugar or white almonds.
On this day the whole family gathers around Vasilopitta. The cake is cut into equal pieces, one for every family member. Everyone is eager to get their portion, not only for its delicious taste but also to see whether they have won the hidden coin. The winner will be blessed with luck throughout the year.
But how did this custom begin and what is the story behind it?
Saint Basil the Great was a prominent bishop and theologist who lived in Caesarea in Cappadocia. An Ottoman general arrived in Caesarea and threatened to loot the city unless he was given a large sum of money. The locals volunteered to help their Bishop and gathered their gold jewelry and coins. The moment when the general tried to touch the treasure, a lightning struck and made him and his soldiers disappear from the face of Earth, leaving Caesareans at awe, praising God for his saving act.
The unpaid ransom had to be returned to their owners, but since Saint Vasilios couldn’t know who had offered what, he thought of a fair way to return all the valuables. He ordered the making of small breads and instructed to put a piece of jewelry or gold inside each piece. The loaves were distributed to the people and amazingly everyone received their exact share.
Since then, on New Year’s Eve when the clock strikes midnight, everyone gathers around the table to cut Vasilopitta. Tradition has it that the father first makes the sign of the cross over Vasilopitta and then starts the sharing. The very first piece is for Jesus Christ, the second is for Saint Vasilios, the third one is for the poor, the next for the oldest family member and then we gradually move to the last piece for the youngest. Whoever finds the coin will be the healthiest and wealthiest of the family.
This delicious cake is prepared a few days before the New Year Day. In the past a gold pound or a silver coin was hidden inside, but nowadays things are simpler, so a simple coin does the job.
Drive along the Heartland of legends villages, get to know the customs and tradition and enjoy your piece of the cake. Who knows, you might be the lucky one of the new year!