The new year will be here before you know it! I wanted to let you know about an awesome book to help your little ones learn about the tradition of the Vasilopita (vah-see-LOW-pita) and St. Basil. First, let’s talk about this neat tradition.
In the Greek culture we always have a loaf of sweet bread or a cake that has a coin hidden in it. There are some minor variations about how to cut it, but basically, a piece is cut for each member of the family. You start with a piece for God, a piece for St. Basil, then for the house. After that each member will get a piece cut – starting with the oldest family member down to the youngest. Whoever gets the coin is supposed to have good luck for the year!
My husband’s family is from Northern Greece. I’m not sure if this is a regional thing or his yiayia’s thing, but they have a very large cheese pita (Like a HUGE tiropita! Talk about delicious!!) and a meat pita. They put the tray on top of another tray that is upside down. The head of the house spins it and you get the piece of pita that is in front of you.
Now, there is a religious aspect to this very fun tradition! I’ve learned about two different stories, but both are similar.
Version 1: The greedy ruler took all the gold & money from the people. He repented and St. Basil had to return all the valuables to the people. Not knowing which piece belonged to which family, he baked it into the cake and everybody got a piece with some jewelry/coins in it.
Version 2: The townspeople were poor. St. Basil wanted to help them but didn’t want them to feel embarrassed by giving them money. So he had some loaves of bread made and put coins in them to help the families in need.
Children’s Book – The Lucky Cake by Anna Prokos
There is a wonderful book, The Lucky Cake, that you can read to your children that explains the Vasilopita and talks about St. Basil. I love the illustrations and the text is child friendly and well written. I’d say it is appropriate for preschool through 3rd grade.
The story focuses on a boy named, Billy who is very anxious to see who gets the coin. I could totally relate, as I had the same excitement about cutting the Vasilopita when I was a kid. 🙂 Billy’s papou tells the family the story of St. Basil. My daughter’s class is learning about other countries so I read the book and did the Vasilopita for the class.
The teacher said it might be better to have individual cakes, so I was VERY lazy and made cupcakes (please don’t tell my yiayia….lol!!) I mention this in case you decide to share this tradition with a class – the cupcakes were so easy. When I cooked the cupcakes, I put a toothpick in the lucky cake, so that I’d know which one had the coin. After the cupcakes were done baking, I poked the “lucky one” a bunch of times with the toothpick. I did this so I could make sure that someone in the class would for sure get the coin. I was worried that some kids might be absent which then I wouldn’t pass out all the cupcakes. We sent them to their seats and they all had to open the cupcakes at the same time. The kids thought it was awesome!
Who Was St. Basil?
The Vasilopita story is great, but I wanted to know even more about this saint. He has a very interesting story and lots of saintly family members!
St. Basil was born around 330 AD and grew up to become the Bishop of Caesarea, Cappadocia (Asia Minor). His grandparents were martyrs. His parents were St. Basil the elder and St. Emmelia. His older sister was St. Macrina the Younger and she encouraged the family to lead a monastic life. Some of his other siblings were St. Gregory of Nyssa, Saint Naucratius and Saint Peter (Bishop of Sebaste). St. Basil founded hospitals, orphanages and hospices to care for those in need. The Divine Liturgy that we celebrate during Lent (St. Basil’s Liturgy) is attributed to him, as well as many prayers of the church. He earned the title of Basil the Great for all of his contributions to the church. He reposed in 379 AD. Many of his relics are preserved throughout the world, but his head is at the Great Lavra on Mt. Athos in Greece.
Troparion (Tone 1)
- Your proclamation has gone out into all the earth
- Which was divinely taught by hearing your voice
- Expounding the nature of creatures,
- Ennobling the manners of men.
- O holy father of a royal priesthood,
- Entreat Christ God that our souls may be saved.
Kontakion (Tone 4)
- You were revealed as the sure foundation of the Church,
- Granting all men a lordship which cannot be taken away,
- Sealing it with your precepts,
- O Venerable and Heavenly Father Basil.
Learn more about this wonderful Saint:
The Lucky Cake by Anna Prokos
(She also has an awesome book about Pascha, The Lucky Egg. It shows Billy’s excitement about the lucky egg, while also talking about the meaning of Pascha! I highly recommend this book, too.)