New Year in Greece is a big deal. The Greeks see it as an opportunity to celebrate the coming year with traditions focused on happiness, luck, and good health. It is an occasion for family and friends to come together and feast.
They create much of the food using ingredients from their own land or the local area; this has been the case for generations. Roast pork is usually the main dish on the menu. It’s traditional for families to slaughter a pig before Christmas to provide the meat for the holidays. Some people serve Souvlaki instead of roasted pork, which is essentially marinated pork that is skewered.
Although these Greek recipes relate to Saint Basil’s day and New Year’s celebrations, you can enjoy them throughout the rest of the year too.
Whether you’re celebrating Eid al-Adha, Christmas, New Year’s Day, Ramadan, Easter, Diwali, or any other holiday, food is likely an important part of the celebration. The examples below are not difficult to find outside of the country, so you can make these dishes wherever you live.
Prothronia (Greek New Year)
To the Greeks, Prothronia is the most important day of the year. Although the Greeks celebrate Christmas, they exchange most gifts on New Year’s Day and wish each other a happy new year.
Firework displays are everywhere—probably the best you’ll ever see. Live music fills the streets, and families eat and drink and look forward to the year ahead.
As the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve, many families throw a pomegranate to the floor, which has hung over the door through the Greek Christmas period. They turn out the lights before doing this and turn them back on to see how many seeds have filled the room as a good luck tradition.
The more seeds that land, the greater your luck will be over the next year. It’s one of many traditions that the Greeks adhere to over Christmas and New Year.
Saint Basil & Christmas
Saint Basil is an important figure in Greece and Athens, especially over New Year. He is essentially the Greek Santa Claus. Like St. Nicholas, Saint Basil helped those in need and brought gifts to the poor.
Saint Basil died on January 1st, which is why the Greeks honor him on this day. Because of his generosity and kindhearted nature, the Greeks view him as Santa Claus, and children expect him to leave gifts under the Christmas tree on New Year’s Eve. Rather than “Santa Claus,” they refer to him as Agios Vassilis.
Greek Recipes for New Year’s Celebrations
Vasilopita/Vassilopita (Greek New Year’s Cake)
The traditional Greek vasilopita cake is the centerpiece of the New Year’s Day feast. The vasilopita (or vassilopita) is a cake or sweet bread that most Greek families bake as well as kourabiedes.
There are varying recipes for the cake, some cover it with icing sugar, but its symbolism is what’s most important. The special thing about this cake is that Greeks bake a coin into it. As they eat, the family member that finds the coin is thought to receive prosperity and good luck.
Its origins go back to Saint Basil, which is why it’s such an important part of the day. When Saint Basil wanted to give money to the poor, he’d bring them a cake with a gold coin baked inside.
Aside from the cake, some people also eat other sweet treats such as butter cookies melomakarona and baklava on St Basil’s Day.
A Classic Greek Salad
A Greek salad is the perfect accompaniment to any Greek meal, it’s been popular since the ancient Greeks. It’s a staple in Greece, and that’s likely because of its versatility.
If you want to enjoy Greek cuisine, then this brings the flavors together. Some people like to add a twist to a Greek salad, but the basic ingredients are tomatoes, cucumber, olives, onion, and feta cheese. It’s usually dressed with oregano, salt, pepper, and olive oil in true Greek style.
Meze is very much like tapas, there are many Greek recipes that are classed as meze. The Greeks refer to small appetizers and dishes that are served simultaneously as “meze”, as do some other Mediterranean countries.
On a New Year’s table, you may see stuffed vine leaves, olives, Tzatziki (yogurt and cucumber-based dip), calamari, fried cheeses, and many more exciting dishes. You can find lots of meze recipes online and easily create your own meze feast.
These fried rings of deliciousness are popular over the festive season. They look a lot like onion rings, but they taste nothing like them.
They are rings of dough made with flour, thyme, orange zest and juice, and other winter spices such as cinnamon and cloves and some choose to add icing sugar. Because of the flavors, they’re best enjoyed over the festive season, but nothing is stopping you from eating them all year round.
The Greek New Year is a fun-filled holiday with great historical importance. It’s an opportunity for family members to get together and wish each other good fortune. Like many holidays, Prothronia has its own traditional foods that families enjoy every year. The dishes listed above are suitable for all occasions when you want a taste of Greece.
Looking for more holiday foods? Why not learn about popular Ramadan food?
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Ben Jenkins – Freelance Writer/ Greek Food Enthusiast