Vassilopita is made once a year - to celebrate the New Year. January 1st is the name day (saint's day) of Aghios Vassilis (St. Basil), the Greek Santa Claus, and the cake is named in his honor. While Christmas is a more solemn occasion, January 1st is filled with celebrations and the exchange of gifts.
As the New Year rolls over, Greek families all over the world will share the tradition of cutting the Vassilopita, which can be made as a cake (photo and link) or bread. However it's fixed, cutting the Vassilopita is a celebration of wishes for the new year.
Each Vassilopita is baked with a coin or medallion hidden inside which, according to tradition, will bring great good fortune in the new year to the person who gets it, so the cutting is all-important and the focus of great scrutiny! Traditionally, pieces are cut ceremoniously by the head of the household and allocated to the church (Holy Trinity and Virgin Mary), then the head of the household (male), his wife, their children (oldest to youngest), other family members by degree of relatedness, then guests. The coin or small medallion (flouri, say: floo-REE) is a tradition symbolizing an extra measure of good fortune for whoever gets the piece where it has been hidden during baking, and this can cause serious confrontation if ownership of the coin is disputed. Here are some suggestions learned the hard way:
- when inserting the coin, insert parallel to the way a knife will cut so it will remain in one piece;
- when making the first cut, declare loudly who gets the pieces on either side of the knife so there are no disputes;
- if a coin does end up between two pieces, the piece that has the larger part gets the coin.