O Agios Vasilis Irthe!

January 8, 2022
By Peter Nicolelis

In Astoria our gang of friends had a ritual every New Year’s day.

Our group included Mike and George Pontisakos, Artie Turnas, Jimmy Grontas, Tony Maroutsis, Nick Pappas, George Kalpakis – and me. We would get together in the early afternoon of New Year’s Day and arrange to visit as many of the homes of the Greek girls we knew from St. Demetrios church. The girls that we would visit were Frieda and Reggie Margarites on 30th Street, Frieda Dracoulis on 31st Avenue, Anne Spillio on Broadway, Fran and Helen Cannel, the Lecakes girls from Ditmars, and the Papamichael girls on 36th Street.

We would arrive at one of the homes, position ourselves around their front door and then begin singing ‘ta kalenda’ – the St. Basil proclamation songs.

As we got into the first verse of, ‘Agios Vasilis Erhete,’ the one closest to the front door would ring the bell and moments later the door would swing open revealing one very shocked household.

Once they recovered from the shock of seeing all of us huddled by their front door singing together in the cold winter air, we were invited inside. There was a mad scurrying for chairs when we first entered and we were all eventually seated.  We laughed and exchanged local news and soon thereafter the girls received an eye signal from their mother. They retreated from the living room and returned with trays filled with decorative dishes filled with authentic ‘glyka’ Greek holiday sweets’: koulourakia, finikia, and kourabiethes.

That first visit marked the adventurous beginning of our ‘Agios Vasili bakeoff competition.’  We knew it would not officially begin until we completed all of our rounds. It would take us another several hours to complete.

I remember one visit in particular.

When the time came to be served, I took some time to carefully select a kourabie. My mouth watered in anticipation of biting into something light, fluffy, and delicious.  First, I took the precaution of tapping the kourabie on the side of the dish to shake off the excess coating of confectioners sugar so that it would not fall on my new suit or on the floor. Being somewhat of an aficionado on the enjoyment of eating kourabiedes, I was somewhat embarrassed and devastated to hear a ringing sound rather than the dull thump that a soft, fluffy kourabie would ordinarily make when used as a knocker against a porcelain dish when used to shake off the sugar.

I was embarrassed by the loud noise and I instinctively looked up and caught the eye of Mike Pontisakos who was sitting close by. He also heard and reacted to the ringing sound of my knock on the dish. It was not a good recipe. We exchanged a knowing smile and made a mental note for the final judging. Naturally, however, we could never agree on whose glyka were the best because each of us was convinced that our own mothers made the best of everything they cooked.

Of course, it was lots of fun getting together with my friends and visiting the homes of the girls we were all friendly with.


Before plunging into a controversial and polarizing rant about the pandemic, I’d like to begin with a couple of disclaimers: first and foremost, I am profoundly saddened by all the suffering the virus’ victims and their loved ones have endured.

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