Friday, December 30, 2005

New Year - old traditions

Most likely I'll be too busy to blog over the holiday, so...Happy New Year! Today I got the coin --- expect big things from me in 2006! ;)

What does that mean, exactly?

You see, at New Years, we traditionally have vasilopita - Greek sweet bread -- made with rosewater, adorned with sesame seeds. Before baking, inside each loaf a lucky coin is placed. Whomever finds the lucky coin while cutting bread is said to be blessed with good luck for the coming year.

My aunt used to supply everyone's vasilopita. Before her, it was my Thea Maria. Since my aunt passed this summer, I realized someone had to step-up to the New Years' bread plate, as it were. So, why not me?

Even though it's not 2006 yet, I've had a bit of good luck already today, in the form of a potential telecommute writing gig. Also a bit of bad, with courts closing early today. Portend from that what you will.

When I call this tradition, the word is not used lightly. The history of vasilopita stretches back to the days of St. Basil. In fact, the word Vasilopita is a compound Greek word which means the sweet 'bread of Basil'. He was my grandfather Vasil's patron saint.

"This age old tradition commenced in the fourth century, when Saint Basil the Great, who was a bishop, wanted to distribute money to the poor in his Diocese. He commissioned some women to bake sweetened bread, in which he arranged to place gold coins. Thus the families in cutting the bread to nourish themselves, were pleasantly surprised to find the coins.

This original event which happened in Cappadocia of Caesarea in the last half of the fourth century, is very much alive in our Orthodox homes each year on January 1st.

According to tradition, special sweet bread (in some areas of Greece, it takes the form of a cake) is prepared both in the Orthodox homes and in the Church community which is called Vasilopita. Sweets are added to the bread which symbolize the sweetness and joy of life everlasting. It also symbolizes the hope that the New Year will be filled with the sweetness of life, liberty, health, and happiness for all who participate in the Vasilopita Observance. When the Vasilopita is prepared, a coin is usally added to the ingredients. When the bread is cut and the observance begins, the individual who receives that portion of the Pita which contains the coin is considered blessed.

This tradition adds joy to the celebration at the beginning of the New Year, which everyone hopes will bring joy to all. Many Orthodox Christians enjoy the Vasilopita at home with their loved ones during the New Year celebration. The head of the family cuts the pieces of pita for all members of the family. Since Saint Basil loved the poor people, a special piece is cut for the unfortunate of the world, which symbolizes our concern for the poverty-striken people of all nations.

May all of us find the gold coin in 2006, remembering to care for and love one another, whether family, friend or stranger.
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