The Greek tradition of the cutting of the Vassilopita, the New Year’s bread or cake, is a tradition which is practiced without fail every year by the Greeks, not only in Greece and Cyprus, but all over the world. The reason for this is, that the hidden coin inside Vassilopita which in Greek is called “flouri” (φλουρί), represents luck and shows who will be the fortunate of the New Year. This custom is related to the need that man has felt since the beginning of the world to predict the future.
It is a custom rich with history and dates back to the Ancient Greek Civilisation. During that great age, Ancient Greeks used to perform every month rituals dedicated to each one of the 12 Olympian Gods. One of the ceremonies involved was the baking of “festive breads”- “eortastikoi artoi” (εορταστικοί άρτοι) made from the first grains of the new season. These breads were given as an offering -for example- to Demeter the goddess of agriculture, cereals, and bread, during the ritual “Thalisia” (Θαλύσια) and it was called “thalissios artos” (θαλύσιος άρτος), to Apollo the god of music, fine arts, divination and purification, during the ritual “Thargilia” (Θαργήλια) and was called “thargilos artos” (θάργηλος άρτος), to Hades the god of the underworld and was called “milihios plakous” (μειλίχιος πλακούς) or “melitouta” (μελιτούττα) (a kind of sweet bread with honey) and so on. Also, every Athenian soldier was obliged to dedicate to Ares, the god of war, three pieces of bread, before he went off to war. The first one was a wish to win in the battle. The second one was a wish to come back home. And the third one was a wish, to come back healthy and able in body and mind.
Later on the Romans adopted the customs of Greeks and they started making their own sweet bread, during the Festival Saturnalia (Kronia for the Greeks), as an offering to Saturn the god of agriculture, which involved selecting a “king” by lot. They were the first to establish the hidden bean or coin in the bread as a sign of health and luck. They also used to put a little piece of papyrus in the bread, which could give the freedom to the slave who would find it. The same tradition was adopted by the inhabitants of Byzantium and all the Latin nations.
When Christianity spread throughout the world the tradition of Vassilopita coincided with the Feast Day of Saint Basil The Great- Agios Vasilios O Megas (Άγιος Βασίλειος ο Μέγας) which is observed on January 1st, at the beginning of the New Year and the Epiphany season, known as the “Vassilopita Observance”.
Therefore the name ” Vassilopita” (βασιλόπιτα) derives from the words “king” (βασιλεύς) + “pie” (πίτα), but was reinterpreted by the Orthodox Church as “Saint Basil’s pie”.
In conclusion, the cutting of the Vassilopita is a glorious family tradition not only in Greece but all over the world and is the most wonderful way to begin each New Year. But even if you are not the lucky one to find the coin in your piece of cake when you’re cutting the Vassilopita, don’t be disappointed. Always remember that the real luck is hidden in your own hands. Because as the ancient Greek tragedian Sophocles used to say:
“Lady Luck never helps those who do not help themselves”.
We wish you a lucky New Year!