New Year’s Day (Πρωτοχρονιά)
New Year’s Day (Πρωτοχρονιά) is also celebrated ecclesiastically as the feast of St. Basil the Great and the Circumcision of Christ.
In Greek tradition, St. Basil brings gifts to children every January 1 (St. Basil’s Day), the anniversary of his death in AD 379. It is customary on this feast day to visit the homes of friends and relatives, to sing New Year’s carols, and to set an extra place at the table for Saint Basil, who was born into a wealthy family but gave away all his possessions to the those in need. St. Basil also serves as the Eastern Orthodox prototype for Santa Claus (Agios Vassilis). This is the day in which Greeks traditionally exchange gifts (rather than December 25).
On both New Year’s Eve and Day, children go from door to door singing New Year’s carols (kalanta). They will ask, “Na ta poume;” (“Shall we we say it?”), and everyone says yes as this is a time for children. The carolers will usually sing a couple of the verses (depending on their ages), and when they are finished, they wish their listeners a Happy New Year. They are then rewarded with a christmas biscuit or, more typically, with coins.
During the celebratory feast, the eldest member of the household cuts the Vassilopita (Βασσιλόπιτα), a sweet and savory bread into which is baked a euro coin or a plain round button wrapped in a silver or gold foil. The first slices are traditionally reserved for Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Saint Basil, the Church, the household, and the poor. The rest of the cake is then distributed among those gathered, from the eldest to the youngest. The recipient of the slice containing the coin is believed to be lucky. The first slices that had been set aside are then either served to guests or given to the needy. Sometimes this tradition is practiced after midnight on New Year’s Eve.