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The Greek New Year

By Yona Williams    8/19/11

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The first day of the New Year is celebrated in Greece in January 1st just like many places, but this was not always the case. The New Year in Greece used to be observed on September 1, and still is recognized to this day. In this article, you will learn the history and traditions behind this religious holiday.

Besides celebrating the New Year, January 1 in Greece was designated as a time to pay homage to St. Basil – known as one of the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church. The people knew St. Basil for his kindness and generosity towards the poor. Since he is believed to have died on January 1, this is the day chosen to honor the saint.

Interestingly, the New Year is a more festive time of the year than Christmas. Gifts are exchanged and tales of St. Basil's kindness to children are told. There are stories of how he would come in the night and leave presents for children in their shoes. This holiday is also a time to host a large feast filled with music, food, and drinks.

Special dishes are prepared, such as St. Basil's Cake (also known as Vassilopitta), where one could find a silver or gold coin that has been placed inside. There is a strict method to distributing the cake. The first piece is reserved for St. Basil. The second slice goes to the house. The oldest member of the household receives the next piece and the remaining slices are handed down from oldest to youngest family members. Some people also serve pieces of cake to the cattle and a large serving to the poor. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of cake will enjoy luck for the next year. Other foods that grace tables during the holiday include honey, olive branches, nuts, shortbread, and fresh fruit. These all serve as symbols of happiness and wealth.

Greek New Year's Day is still celebrated on September 1 because it is known as the date that kicks off the Greek sowing season. This time of hope involves farming families paying a visit to the local church with plates of seeds in hand. In hopes of starting the season off right, they seek blessings from the priest.

Different cities and towns observe their own traditions. For example, in Kos, the people make first-of-the-year wreaths using pomegranates, grapes, quinces, garlic bulbs, and leaves of the plane tree. Just before dawn, the children carry the wreaths down to the shore on September 1.

They toss out the old wreathes to sea and place the New Year wreaths under the water for good luck. In a jar, they place seawater and pebbles to carry back home. Tradition states that one should collect exactly 40 pebbles and the water should be collected from the tops of exactly 40 waves.

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