Sunday, January 4, 2009


On New Years day, I was invited to my cousin’s house to celebrate the New Year—Greek style. My whole extended family—made up of about 60 adults and children—had a wonderful time eating, drinking and lounging about in her beautiful garden. With the sun shining on our faces and the cool Dubai spring breeze causing us to wrap light sweaters tightly around us, we celebrated the official beginning of 2009.

In honor of the New Year, my cousin, who is married to a Greek/Egyptian ended the lunch on a traditional, but fun note— the honoring of St. Basil, one of the forefathers of the Greek Orthodox Church.

The Vassilopita, also known as the St. Basil Cake, is the heart of the tradition. What is the Vassilopita? It’s a Greek type of pound cake baked with a hidden treasure: a wrapped coin. No one knows where the treasure is hidden. The only way to find it is to cut the cake into slices. One slice is cut per family or person present at the gathering. According to Greek tradition, the person who gets the coin will have good fortune for the rest of the new year. Because of this, the cutting of the cake has to follow some specific rules.

My cousin held the cake up high as she placed it at a center table. All the families gathered around the cake. Because of the sheer size of our family and the small size of the cake, slices were predetermined ahead of time and by family rather than by person. My cousin’s husband called out the names of the families before he cut each piece. We all waited eagerly to see who it would be. There was so much laughter and yelling as we all searched for the coin in our allotted slice of cake. A lot of cheering and booing later, the coin was finally found.

I’m not sure what it was about Vassilopita, but this tradition left me feeling all warm and toasty inside. I’ve decided traditions do have an important place. I think what touched me the most was the spirit in which it was done. There was so much fun and laughter as well as teasing—all in good form. And somehow, it brought our family closer as we celebrated this special Greek Orthodox tradition.


  1. Soooo, Maha, who got the coin? You can bring us to the brink and leave us hanging?

    What a great tradition. I love learning about other cultures. Thanks for sharing.

    : ) Paula

  2. This sounds like a lot of fun. Who got the coin??? I envy your sunshine and cool spring breeze on New Year's.

  3. What a warm and wonderful gathering! I love family get togethers. I miss my family because they are scattered all over the world. But it makes the times we get together even more precious. And what a fun tradition. I've got to borrow it and try it in a Thanksgiving cake or something ...

  4. One of my cousins got it--in the last slice of cake! Funny thing is that we were all upset (in a funny way of course) that we were at the end of the predetermined list. My cousin MT's family was last on the list. My family was right before hers. It really was a fun gathering. I feel lucky I live close to so much family.