SUNDAY, JANUARY 1: Join the Greeks in marking the feast of St. Basil the Great today—by baking up some Vasilopita, learning about the Eastern influence for Santa Claus and learning more about this 4th century bishop.
Basil of Caesarea was actually born in modern-day Turkey, to a wealthy family with 10 children. Following a formal education, Basil studied in Constantinople and moved on to Athens, and it was in Greece that he began turning toward God and Christianity. (Wikipedia has details.) Basil devoted his life to God, became a Christian theologian and cared deeply for the poor. Basil is now regarded as a Doctor of the Church, for his thoughts on the Trinity and the Holy Spirit; the Father of Communal Monasticism, for his guidelines on monastic life; and as a saint revered by both Eastern and Western Christians. Greeks, in particular, remember St. Basil as a founder of the Greek Orthodox Church. St. Basil died on Jan. 1. (Most Western Christians recognize St. Basil tomorrow.)
In Greece, St. Basil’s feast day is similar to St. Nicholas Day in the West: the saint “brings gifts” to children, family and friends are visited and carols are sung. Often, traveling carolers are given treats by the people they sing for, and almost every Greek household bakes a Vasilopita (a cake with a coin inside). Legend has it that whoever receives the piece of Vasilopita with the coin inside will have good luck in the coming year. (Get a recipe and more from the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America.)
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.