‘Xronia Polla’ and the Bread of St. Basil

Events, Food, Local Flavor, What's New — By Paige Moore on January 3, 2011 at 2:55 pm

For the third day running, Greece is on holiday.

The soundtrack of the streets is the constant, highly personalized ring tones of mobiles, followed by the greeting “Xronia polla! Kalie xronia!” Any hoop-ti-doo, personal or national, is reason enough to shout out the first wish of “many years”; the second wishes the receiver a good year and is specific to the new year. The strength of your social network is gauged by the number of calls you receive, which is usually somehow related to how many you give, or gave, for the last occasion to go through your phone list. In Greece, relationships are everything.

Don’t be surprised if the streets seem a little empty. Everyone is at the home of everyone else- eating, singing, drinking, laughing, baking, eating a little more, watching television, listening to music,  calling those who are far and lamenting that they’re not near; calling those who are near and urging them to come nearer and help eat all of the food. Should that fail, they invite them to partake in the cutting of the vassilopita.

This is a country with a bread for all seasons. Vassilopita is dedicated on January 1, the day of St. Basil of Caesaria, to remember an act when the saint returned precious rings or golden coins to the people of the area after persuading a Roman sub-prefect to not take them as taxes. A little coin or ring is baked or pushed inside. At midnight, the head of the household cuts a slice for everyone, with one slice sometimes reserved for God, St. Basil or the house itself, and whoever finds the treasure in their piece is king for the night and will have luck throughout the year.

Vassilopita will be cut all throughout January. A friend said, “It’s our way of extending the feast until Carnivale (Late Febuary) and pretty soon it’s Easter so we’re never without a reason to celebrate.”

Even with the current troubles, winter can be so nice in Greece. It’s just one long string of Cronia Pollas until it’s warm enough to swim again.

Other days to wish Xronia Polla (HRO’nia polLAH’):

  • Birthdays
  • Name Days or Saint’s Days especially Agios Giorgos, Agia Katerina, Agia Maria, Agios Demitri, and Agios Nikolaos
  • Most of the days of December through February
  • Carnivale
  • Kathari Deftera (Clean Monday)
  • Independence Day – March 25th
  • Easter
  • Oxi Day – October 28th

Recommended Reading: Festive Greece, A Calendar of Traditions by John L. Tomkinson

For a vassilopita recipe, click here to go to GreekCuisine.com

Tags: Athens festivals, Athens in New Year, feasts, name days, St. Basil, vassilopita, winter in Athens, Xronia Polla