Hmm, I bet you are all getting ready for tonight, right?
That sounded a bit ominous, but do not worry, there are no scary stories today.
Since I shared with you a piece of Greek folklore on Christmas, I thought I’d better complete this. So, with no further delay, here are the Greek New Year’s eve traditions!
First interesting fact. There is no Santa Claus in Greece.
Wait… what about Christmas presents you might ask. There is none, is the right answer! Greeks exchange gifts on New Year’s eve. And who brings those? Introducing *drum roll * Basil of Caesarea a.k.a Saint Basil the Great!
St. Basil was born in Cappadokia, which is now a part of Turkey, sometime around 330. He was a theologian who later became the Greek bishop of Caesarea. He was a well educated man who brought a more philosophical approach to religion, a prolific writer, a great contributor in Christian liturgy, and a well-known and active philanthropist. He died on January 1st , 379, and according to the Orthodox tradition, this is the day he is celebrated.
The explanation behind why he is the gift-bearer, lies mostly on his philanthropy. See, St. Basil was born into a very rich family, but did give away all of his fortune to those in need, especially children.
There is another legend concerning him and a strong Greek tradition. There are numerous versions of this, but I’ll go down with the most popular one. So, the city of Caesarea was under siege. St. Basil decided it was better to collect all valuables and donate them to the enemy, as to avoid a bloodshed. The citizens agreed, and as all valuables were gathered, the sieging army was so embarrassed by the selflessness of the act, that they left. St. Basil couldn’t think of a better way to redistribute the treasure, as no logs were kept, so he baked loaves of bread, hiding the treasure inside, and shared them with the families. According to the legend, each family got back exactly what they had given.
In memory of this, Greeks bake a sweet called Vasilopita. There is a coin hidden inside, and the sweet is cut on New Year’s eve, right after midnight. The person who gets the coin, has luck for the rest of the year! Out of courtesy, there is always a piece cut for St. Basil.
So, this is how St. Basil brings the gifts. Surely, without a sledge and reindeers, the mechanics of this journey are a bit blurry, but on the bright side, he only has one country to cover!
First published: 31/12/2016