Greece’s Sweet, Baked Wheel of Fortune

The New Year’s Day tradition of Vasilopita, a round bread/cake with a lucky coin hidden inside.

The vasilopita, a sweet-bread cake, is closely associated with the festive season in Greece and traditionally cut upon the arrival of the New Year. The sign of a cross is etched across the cake with a knife by an appointed member of the family or group, who cuts a slice for all the other members, for the house, for missing loved ones, Christ and Saint Basil. The finder of a coin, which is slipped into the dough before the cake is baked, can hope to receive a present on the spot or consider the outcome as a harbinger of good luck for the New Year.

In the Orthodox tradition, the vasilopita is directly associated with Saint Basil. According to this tradition, Saint Basil found himself needing to gather gold coins and other valuables from his fellow citizens in Caesarea, which he planned to offer to enemies and avert an invasion they were preparing. The invasion didn’t take place in the end and Saint Basil, unable to say who had given what, was not in a position to correctly return the coins and valuables to their owners. As a result, he made a request for many small buns to be baked and randomly placed a coin or valuable into the dough prepared for each piece. The resulting bread buns were then distributed and everybody received something, even it if was not precisely what had been originally offered. This explains the symbolism associated with the coin today. The fortune of being the lucky recipient is more significant than the actual coin won. But, having said that, winning a golden coin is always a wonderful surprise.

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