The story of the Greek Orthodox custom of the Vasilopita with the lucky coin inside, begins in Asia Minor, and more specifically in the city of Caesarea in Cappadocia, more than 1600 years ago. Here’s a recipe for Vasilopita, as well as the history behind the tradition.
St. Basil the Great was born in Caesarea of Cappadocia in 330. He was one of ten children of St. Basil the Elder and St. Emmelia. Several of his brothers and sisters are also honoured among the saints.
He attended school in Caesarea, as well as Constantinople and Athens, where he became acquainted with St. Gregory Nazianzen in 352.
Basil was one of the giants of the early Christian Church. He was learned, accomplished in statesmanship, a man of great personal holiness, and one of the great orators of Christianity. His feast day is January 1.
The story of the tradition
The story of the lucky coin in the Vasilopita originates from the time the prefect of Cappadocia; a true tyrant, asked for all the treasures of the city of Caesarea to be delivered to him, otherwise he would besiege the city to conquer and loot it.
Basil, as Bishop, prayed to God all night to save the city. The next morning the prefect’s army surrounded the city of Caesarea. The prefect entered the city with his guard and asked to see the Bishop.
The angry prefect demanded all the gold of the city, as well as any other treasures that they kept.
The Bishop replied that the people of his city had nothing but hunger and poverty, so they had nothing to give to the prefect. Upon hearing those words, the tyrant was infuriated and threatened to oust the Bishop from his homeland or even kill him.
The Christians of Caesarea loved their Bishop and wanted to help him. So they gathered all the gold they had in their possession, put in inside a chest and offered it to Basil so that he would give to the ruthless prefect.
The tyrant was impatient though, and upon Basil’s first reply, he ordered his army to attack the poor people of the city.
Basil the Great, in his turn, offered the chest of gold to the prefect in order to save the city. But when the tyrant opened the chest and put his greedy hands on the gold, a miracle happened:
All the people who had gathered around the prefect and the chest, saw a brilliant glow and from inside the chest a rider followed by an army came out of the chest and wiped out the army of the prefect. The glowing horseman was Philopater Mercurius (Saint Mercurius), and his army was an army of angels.
Thus the city of Caesarea was saved. But then, the Bishop had to share the gold that was given to him with all the city residents.
He wanted the sharing of the gold to be fair, a rather difficult task. So Basil the Great prayed to God for advice and He told him what to do.
The Bishop called all deacons and his assistants and told them to knead buns and put pieces of gold in each one. When they were ready, Basil the Great distributed the bread to all inhabitants of the city of Caesarea.
In the beginning everyone was surprised, but then they were even more surprised when every family that cut the buns found pieces of gold inside. It was a special piece of bread, one that brought people joy and blessings together.
Since then, the Vasilopita has become a Christian tradition, where on the first day of the New Year, Saint Basil’s Day, the faithful cut the bread hoping to find the coin that is said to bring them blessings throughout the whole year.
Here’s a traditional recipe to make the favorite New Year’s Greek cake aka Vasilopita.
14oz/400gr ALL PURPOSE FLOUR
3FL OZ/90 ml MILK
¼ TEASPOON VANILA
¼ BAKING POWDER
1/2 TEASPOON ORANGE ZEST
Lucky charm (usually a foil-wrapped coin)
- Add in the mixer the butter and sugar and mix for two minutes
- As you are continuing mixing add 4 eggs, milk, baking powder, vanilla, orange zest and mix until absorbed
- Add the flour and mix for three minutes
- Place the cake mix in an oiled-up baking pan
- Take a coing and wrap it in foil, place in the cake mix
- Bake at preheated oven 320°F/160°C for 50 minutes
- Add powdered sugar and design the year
Prepare a gift for the person who will find the winning piece with the lucky coin (flouri), it is said they will have luck for the whole new year. There are many different variations of the Vasilopita recipe, here’s another one.
Also read the fascinating legend behind the origins of Vasilopita and watch the video:
Enjoy and Happy New year!!!
The Nostimo Team