New Years Day Celebrations in Greece

New Years Day is not just the beginning of the New Year but is often viewed as a new beginning, a day when many people around the world make pledges and resolutions to leave behind past troubles and obstacles and seek a new life.

People believe that a years conclusion often takes with it whatever bad occurred in that year, thus heralding the New Year with joyous celebration. Humanitys hopeful expectations of the New Year are best reflected in a verse of a popular New Years Eve song in Greece: Old Year leave now, your time is up. The New Year is here with presents, songs and joy.

In the eastern Mediterranean nation of 11 million, New Years Day many celebrations are influenced by local folkloric traditions, the Orthodox Church and the occasion of the feast day of St. Basil, who in Greece substitutes for St. Nicholas as the embodiment of Santa Claus.

One of the most quintessential of all New Years customs in the Hellenic world has its roots in Greco-Roman traditions. A traditional cake (vassilopita) made on New Years Eve is cut in the presence of the entire family on New Years Day. The ancient Greek Kronia or the Latin Saturnalia were celebrated with the preparation of sweets and cakes. A silver or gold coin was baked inside the cake and whoever found the coin in their piece was the lucky one for the coming year.

The Eastern Orthodox Church linked the vassilopita tradition with the story of St. Basil, who in order to protect his parish of Caesarea in Cappadocia, in modern-day central Asia Minor, from the attacks of hostile tribes, gathered all gold coins and other valuables the people had in their possession to appease the would-be attackers. When an attack failed to materialize, St. Basil proposed returning the valuables in a manner that would disperse the riches as evenly as possible — baked within cakes.