Saint Nicholas
Greek Orthodox Church

3109 Scio Church Road
Ann Arbor, Michigan  48103

Telephone:  734 / 332 - 8200

Fax:  734 / 332 - 8201


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Our Parish Priest,
Reverend Father Nicolaos H. Kotsis,
Under the spiritual and ecclesiastical shepherding
of  His Eminence Metropolitan Nicholas of the
Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Detroit
of the
Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
under the jurisdiction of the
Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople

The Vasilopita (Basilopita) Observance
Offered by our Saint Nicholas Ladies Philoptochos Society

      In 1944 the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America and later Ecumenical Patriarch  Athenagoras designated the Ladies Philoptochos Society Chapters of our Archdiocese to raise funds for St. Basil's Academy in Garrison, N.Y. which housed at that time, as it does now, orphans, unwanted children and children from broken homes.  One of the fund-raising events instituted at that time is the observance of the Vasilopita (Basilopita).  The word Vasilopita (Basilopita) is a compound Greek word that means the sweet bread of Saint Basil.  The annual observance of the Vasilopita (Basilopita) originated from the January 1st Feast Day of Saint Basil (Agios Basilios) in respect for his many theological contributions to the Church and to mankind.  In the Fourth Century he built a complex of buildings which included, a hospital, an orphanage and home for the poor.  Through the charitable works of Saint Basil (Agios Basilios), relief and care was given to the needy.  The Custom of hiding coin and of pieces designated for Saint Basil (Agios Basilios), for the house and for the poor go back to Saint Basil's generosity.
      The most important customary food for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day - maybe even for the entire holiday season - is the Vasilopita
(Basilopita), or "Basil's Bread," presented in honor of Saint Basil (Agios Basilios).  According to tradition, sweet bread is prepared in the Greek Orthodox homes and in the Church community.  The sweetness of the bread symbolizes the hope that the New Year will be filled with the sweetness of life, liberty, health and happiness for all that participate in the Vasilopita (Basilopita) Observance.  In some regions, this is a cake; in others, a sweet bread.  This special bread is round and surrounded with nuts, dried fruits, and sweets.  When the Vasilopita (Basilopita) is prepared, a coin is usually placed in the dough before it is baked.  When bread is cut and distributed, the individual who receives that portion of the Vasilopita (Basilopita), which contains the coin, is considered to be fortunate.  The Vasilopita (Basilopita) is a joyous occasion and it is a custom and tradition, which should be annually observed in the Greek Orthodox Parishes and in the homes of Greek Orthodox Christians.  By doing this we commemorate the good and charitable works of Saint Basil (Agios Basilios).
      The most meaningful moment of New Year's Day and Saint Basil's Day comes when the head of the household ceremoniously cuts the Vasilopita
(Basilopita).  This may occur at the stroke of midnight or on New Year's Eve, in the morning of New Year's Day or at the start of the dinner on New Year's Day.
      In many families, the ceremony begins with the singing of a new year's kalanda, or "kalanda protochronias" (
kalanda protochronias):

It's the start of the month
and the start of the year,
Oh, my tall rosemary tree,
and the start of a happy new year,
Oh, my church of the holy throne.

Saint Basil is coming,
as you noblemen know,
from Caesarea.
You, my lady, are a noblewoman

The family ceremony also may open with this traditional poem recited by a child:
I take the knife and put it
in my father's hand,
So he can cut the Vasilopita
and give one slice to me.

      Then, the head of the household takes the knife and makes the sign of the cross over the bread, saying, "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen."
      The bread is cut, and the pieces are handed out carefully in a special order.  The first piece is for Christ, and will be placed on the family's ikonistasi (
ikonistasi), or family altar.  There will be pieces for the Virgin Mary, for Saint Basil (Agios Basilios), and a piece for the needy.  Then, pieces will be cut for members of the family, again in order.  First, the head of the household, then each member in order, including those who are absent, plus a piece for the house and one for the farm.  On the islands, there may be a piece cut for the family's boat.
      The number of pieces cut, and the exact order, varies from house to house, but always begins with Christ and Saint Basil
(Agios Basilios), and there will always be a piece for the less fortunate.  If the Vasilopita (Basilopita) is cut at midnight, the piece for Saint Basil (Agios Basilios) will be left out for him to find on his visit that night.
      Handing out the pieces, the head of the household wishes each person in turn "Chronia polla"
Cronia polla) or "Kali chronia" (Kali cronia).  One person will have a wonderful start to the year, for one piece will contain the hidden coin.  Finding the coin in your piece brings luck for the entire year to come.

Excerpts from: "Christmas in Greece"
World Book Inc. Chicago

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