New Year’s celebrations seem to be rather universal. Parties with friends, booze with friends, food with friends, fireworks and/or gunshots with friends. You know… the usual.
For Greeks, it’s the same thing, however there are a couple of little traditions from the village that are thrown in to help ensure the new year starts off on the right foot. No, literally. The right foot! If you are visiting someone’s home on New Year’s Day, you enter the house on the right foot. Keep that left foot back! The practice actually has a religious tie-in to the Nicene Creed that is recited every Sunday, which is a declaration of what Orthodox Christians believe. In the Creed there is a line which states that Christ will sit at the right hand of the Father in heaven. So the right foot it is!
While you are shuffling your feet to make sure you get it right (pun intended!), you’d better not be empty handed. It is also customary to bring something sweet to show wishes for a sweet year ahead. If there are children in the visiting party, they are usually the ones to go in first, starting with the youngest, on their right foot with sweets in hand. The first person into the home is also believed to set the tone for the rest of the year. So make sure you invite someone over that you like!
When visiting during the New Year’s holidays, you will also likely be served a piece of sweet bread or cake called Vasilopita, along with a nice hot demitasse cup of Greek coffee. This treat gets its name from St. Basil, or Vasilis in Greek. In English it would translate into William. New Year’s Day happens to be the feast day of St. Basil. St. Basil was a Greek bishop in the early Orthodox church who was well known for his generosity to the poor. He gave away his family’s fortune to the poor in his community, and established a “soup kitchen” to help feed the hungry.
The vasilopita, either in bread form or cake form, will always be baked with foil-wrapped coins inside the dough to represent St. Basil’s generosity. Whomever finds the coin in their slice of vasilopita is believed to have good luck for the year. The coin is usually then donated to the church to continue those good deeds like St. Basil’s.
So now you can continue your New Year’s festivities the Greek way!