The Feast of St. Basil in Greece: A New Years Celebration


Map of Country

Map of modern day Greece.



Even in modern day countries such as Greece, old traditions and celebrations are some of the defining factors of culture and the way of life from country to country. The Feast of St. Basil in Greece is an example of an ancient celebration. There are many religious overtones, as there are with many different Greek holidays. It is a time when the family comes together to celebrate the New Year and to be blessed by the Saint.


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St. Basil the Great © 1997 by Orthodox Family Life and the original author(s).
A typical cake baked on New Years Day in Greece, called Vassilopita. © 2002 May Lerios


Of all the countries in the world, Greece is probably one of the better known countries because of its long history and contributions to modern day life. Greece, the very cradle of Western Civilization, is a nation of great national pride and rich cultural background.


Context of Greece

Greece, also known as the Hellenic Republic, is located in Southeastern Europe on the Balkan Peninsula in the Mediterranean Sea. Greece makes up the mainland of the peninsula, and over 2,000 islands, of which 170 are populated with long coastlines. The climate of Greece is typical of a Mediterranean country, having dry, hot summers, alternating with cold, rainy winters.

Greece arose from an increasing sense of common ethnic identity that emerged from the city-states of the Aegean area during the Bronze Age. Since then, Greece has been ruled by the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Frankish, Venetian, and Ottoman Empires over two millennia. The last ruling empire was the Ottoman Empire, which saw a full-scale revolution against it in 1821, and fighting would end in 1828. This war is referred to as the Seven Year War, and was a bloody war in a fight for independence. Greece's government was then modeled after the governments of Western Europe. The first president of Greece was assassinated in 1831, and an absolute monarchy was established, in which England, Russia, and France monitored. Following a coup in 1843, a constitutional monarchy was put into place, creating a parliament. Yet another coup followed in 1862, expanding the powers of parliament, and lessening the role of the monarchy. As time passed, Greece eventually aligned itself completely with the West, became a member of NATO in 1951, and completely abolished its monarchy in 1973.


Origins of The Feast of St. Basil

Saint Basil was born in the year 330 to a family rich in the Christian faith. The saint spent many years studying in Greece, and eventually ended his studies in Athens, the center of classical enlightenment. After completing his education, he returned to his birthplace of Caesarea, in order to read the Holy Scriptures to the people, and then teach them so they could understand. After doing this for several years, he embarked on a pilgrimage to Egypt, Syria, and Palestine in order to do the work of the great saints of the past. St. Basil began his work in writing the teachings of Christ and his own teachings in living a virtuous life. A small disagreement eventually arose between St. Basil and Gregory the Theologian, and St. Basil withdrew in order to start his own monastery, and then focused on the organization of monasteries. He was chose to succed a late bishop in the year 370, and St. Basil became the Bishoop of Caesarea.

St. Basil died on January 1, 379 and the church immediately began to honor his memory through celebration. It became traditional to sing carols in his honor and eventually evolved into the celebration the Greeks perform on New Years Day every year.



Festivities for the Feast of St. Basil begin on New Year's Eve. The saint is believed to visit each house of the Greek Orthodox Church. He blesses all the people of the family and all of their belongings. In modern times, the parish priest will go around to the members of his church in order to bless them. On New Year's Day, a special cake is baked called "vassilopita." A coin is baked into the cake and is then ceremoniously sliced with the first piece being for Jesus. The next piece is for the house, and the next piece being for absent or deceased family members. The person who gets the piece with the coin baked into it is said to be the luckiest family member for that whole year.



While there is no specific artifact that is sacred in this celebraton, the cake called "vassilopita" (which is pictured above), is the most recognizable item from this celebration. There are many documents and writings from St. Basil that are still intact today.




Prognosis for [name of celebration]

The Greeks remain very steadfast in their faith in the Greek Orthodox Church. While 98% of the population declare themselves Greek Orthodox Christians (MacDonald, 201-219), this should ensure that the Feast of St. Basil remain a prominent celebration in the country of Greece, as well as all of those people around the world who put their faith in the Greek Orthodox Church.



The Feast of St. Basil, a New Year's Celebration for those who follow the Greek Orthodox Church, remains a strong celebration in the world today. Families come together to be blessed by the saint on New Year's Day, and engage in family oriented festivities in order to celebrate. The vassilopita is baked and the lucky person who gets the piece with the coin baked into it will be the luckiest in the family for that year. With the laid back culture of modern Greece and their love of celebrations, this tradition is sure to continue well into the future.


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