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Vasilopita (Βασιλόπιτα) is a traditional New Year's Day bread or cake in Greecemarker and many other areas in eastern Europe and the Balkans which contains a hidden coin or trinket which gives good luck to the receiver. It is made of a variety of doughs, depending on regional and family tradition, including tsoureki.

It is associated with Saint Basil's day, January 1, in most of Greece, but in some regions, the traditions surrounding a cake with a hidden coin are attached to Epiphany or to Christmas.

In other areas of the Balkans, the tradition of cake with a hidden coin during winter holidays exists, but is not associated with Saint Basil at all. Hasluck (1927) documents the practice among Ukrainians (a pirog is cut); Romanians; Serbs ("chesnitza", eaten on Christmas); Albanians ("pitta", eaten by both Christians and Muslims); Bulgarians (pogatcha, Novogodichna banitsa (for New Year's), Svity Vasileva bogatcha); etc.

The Ritual

On New Year's Day families cut the Vassilopita to bless the house and bring good luck for the new year. A coin is wrapped and hidden in the bread by slipping it into the dough before baking. A piece of cake is sliced for each member of the family and any visitors present at the time, in order of age. Slices are also cut for various other people or groups, depending on local and family tradition. They may include St. Basil and other saints, the Virgin Mary, the Church, the poor, the king (formerly), and the Kallikantzaroi (Καλλικάντζαρος), commonly translated as goblins.

Saint Basil's Feast Day is observed on January 1, the beginning of the New Year and the Epiphany season known as the Vasilopita Observance.

Origins

The traditions surrounding Vasilopita are very similar to western European celebrations of the Twelfth Night and Epiphany: the Provençal Gâteau des Rois and the Northern Frenchmarker galette des rois, the Catalonianmarker tortell, and the Louisiana king cake. Hasluck (1927) connects both the western and the eastern celebrations to the Roman Saturnalia and the ancient Greek Kronia, the festival of King Cronus, which involved selecting a "king" by lot.

The name

The name "βασιλόπιτα" comes from two greek words: βασιλεύς 'king' + πίτα 'pie', but was reinterpreted as Saint Basil's (Βασίλειος) cake.

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