Why Do Greeks Add a Coin in the Vasilopita for New Year’s?

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Each year, Greeks all over the world enjoy the festivities on New Year’s Day. One of the main traditions that takes place during this day is eating the traditional vasilopita, a cake-like bread that has a hidden secret. There is usually a coin baked within, and the person who ends up with the coin in their piece enjoys good luck during the New Year. Where did the tradition of the vasilopita and the coin actually come from?

Here’s more information about the why coins are added to a Vasilopita:

About Vasilopita

Vasilopita is a traditional sweet bread served once a year at New Year’s. It is a tradition that started in Greece but is now celebrated throughout the world. As Greeks over to other locations, they brought their tradition with them. New Year’s wouldn’t be the same without it! The recipe contains plenty of sweet and flavorful ingredients like sugar, orange zest, and sometimes even orange juice. However, recipes could vary depending on the family and the area of Greece where it originated.

Tradition of Vasilopita

Essentially, vasilopita is a cake that honors Saint Basil the Great, the saint for whom the cake gets its name. They story of Saint Basil is well known amongst Greeks, and they admire his devotion to helping the poor. He is said to have sold all of his possessions in order to help those less fortunate than him. This is especially notable in his case because he was born into an extremely rich family. He sold all of his jewels and other markers of wealth in order to help people. It is also said that his devotion to helping the poor is where the tradition of gift-giving originated. His feast day is on January 1st of each year, so this cake is naturally served as part of the festivities.

Why Vasilopita Has a Coin

Simply put, Vasilopita has a coin baked inside of it to remind us of the life of Saint Basil. The coin is a gift, and it is reminiscent of how Saint Basil gave away all of his possessions in order to help the poor. The coin symbolizes everything that Saint Basil stands for. It reminds us to always help those less fortunate than us.

In fact, this cake is not only served at New Year’s parties – it is also used as a fundraiser. Greek churches in the United States, in particular, offer this cake is a fundraiser to raise money for an orphanage. Helping poor orphans is something that Saint Basil did while he walked the earth and the tradition continues.

As you can see, there is a rich tradition behind vasilopita, why it has a coin, and why it is served in the first place. You can bake in any coin that you want, but consider using either a specially created Vasilopita coin, or you can use anything you have on hand. If you want to make your own during New Year’s this year, consider following our recipe. 

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This post was written by Greek Boston