USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Vasilopita’
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New Years Tradition

A is an 18-year-old woman. She is currently studying Biomedical Engineering at the University of Southern California. She considers her nationality to be American, but more specifically she is one quarter Greek Cypriote, one quarter German and half Argentinian. that being said, she strongly identifies with her Greek roots. She is fluent in both English and Greek, and is currently learning Mandarin.

A: For the New Year, and this is a pretty common thing in a lot of Eastern European countries, but for the New Year we bake like a special like New Years bread/cake thing, um, which is called, um “vasilopita.”

Me: Sorry, could you spell that?

A: Yeah. um, in English, it’s spelled, v-a-s-i-l-o-p-i-t-a.

Me: Perfect.

A: It’s a, direct translation is like King’s bread. Um, there are two different stories I’ve heard. This one, one of them, is that, um, there was like a ransom, like a town was under siege, the robbers demanded a ransom, and like they had to collect like all these family jewels and gold and stuff, and a priest was trying to return it to the family like Ayios (saint) Vassilis, that’s why it’s named after him, um and what he did to smuggle it under the noses of the robbers is he baked all of their goods into a, like, cake. And he was like, this is a cake, like don’t mind me taking this out of the palace. And like the story goes that he like cut all the cake and magically every family like got the right stuff returned to them. So whoever gets the coin in the cake, like their part of the vasilopita, gets good luck for the year.

Me: What’s the other story then?

A: The other one is a very similar story, except it wasn’t he snuck it out from the robbers, the robbers were so like amazed by how like the town came together to give them all the bounty that they like let them have it and then it got baked into a cake. So one of them’s much nicer and the other one’s like funny and sneaky. But that’s like a common myth, ’cause like a lot of greek families do it, um and something, like I don’t know if evryone does this, but like when you cut the cake, first you cut a piece for God, then you cut a piece for Jesus, then you cut a piece for the house, then you start cutting pieces in order of who’s oldest who’s at that New Years celebration.

Me: What happens to the other pieces?

A: You search through them to see if there’s a coin in there. ‘Cause Jesus needs the good luck apparently. Yeah, so you just leave them uneaten, or like you eat them afterwords.

Me: So if God or Jesus or the house gets the coin, then?

A: Then they have the luck. Actually I have yet to ever, well, I had the house get the coin once. Which is fine, ’cause you’re like yay, everyone in the house is going to be lucky.

Me: Oh, okay. I thought it was like the actual foundation of the house.

A: Oh, that would be really funny.

Me: Like the house is lucky. It will not fall victim to any floods…

A: Actually that could be a thing too, like no floods, no earthquakes, like…

Me: Your house will not burn down this year.

A: Yay. Gosh, that’s been just been happening to me so frequently, I could really use the coin. Um, and like sometimes it’s in the uneaten part of the cake, and so you just work though it for the next few days, but it’s yummy. It’s a good cake.

Me: It’s kind of like Mardi Gras and the little baby.

A: Yeah.

Informant A talks about a New Years tradition that she and her family along with many other greek families do on the holiday. She talks about the history of the cake which is called vasilopita and how there is a coin baked into the cake. Whoever finds the coin in their piece of cake gets good luck for the following year. Respect for religion and age are shown in this tradition with the order in which the pieces of cake are cut and distributed. God, Jesus, and the house are included in the tradition and are given priority over the people at the party, pieces are cut for them in the order listed above. The older people at the party are also given priority as the piece are then distributed by age from oldest to youngest. This is much like the tradition of baking a baby into the cake at Mardi Gras and was likely the basis of the Mardi Gras tradition. The priest, Ayios Vassilis, in the story is also the same person that the Greeks use to represent Santa Claus.

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