Tuesday, 15 January 2013

The cutting of the New Year's cake (H κοπή της πίτας)

Greece is not just a country, it is a way of life. As J.W.von Goethe said, "let's discover the land of the Greeks because the Greeks have dreamt the dream of life so beautifully." Thank you, Ann-Britt Gay Hartwig.

The custom of the cutting of the βασιλόπιτα (St Basil's pie - New Year's cake) is a symbolic gesture associated with good fortune in the coming year. It is not reserved for only the beginning of the year; an organisation, a school, a firm, a sports group and any other body may cut a vasilopita at any time early in the year as a gesture of goodwill. This could be accompanied by a fund-raising venture, or a get-together.
In Greece, where there is wine, there is food.
The cutting of the New Year's cake is like a bonding session: it the equivalent of the office Christmas party. It is always treated as a family affair. At the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania (MAICh), the Director oganised a staff party, inviting all retirees from the institute to come and join us in the celebration.
Staff and students mingle together on occassions like this.
Instead of having a lunch meal at the student restaurant, we had a buffet-style dinner at the restaurant usually reserved for conference facilities. The Director spoke first, followed by the student representative, and then the cake was cut by the Director. This is usually distributed to the attendees, but because our get-together was accompanied by food and wine, we left it for dessert.

The chef serves mainly vegetarian dishes - although meat was served, it was not overwhelming. Chicken and beef, with some lamb, are the main meats served. Pork, a greek favorite, is rartely used, because half our students are Muslims.

While we helped ourselves at the buffet (wine was served with the meal), the musicians from OKTABA, a local group that plays in a club in Hania, one of whose members, Yiannis Katsikandarakis, works at MAICh, played some Greek favorites. Food, wine and music entail dancing - and there was plenty of that too.
I ate later than most because I waited for my family to come after the kids finished school. In the meantime, I set the table to start them off. At celebrations of this kind, I am unable to eat or enjoy the atmosphere alone. 
The vasilopita was then shared out. The hidden coin was quickly found by a student. As a symbolic gesture, he was given a prize of a return ticket to Athens with the local ferry boat service (sponsored by ANEK).
Come to Greece to find your κέφι!
In Greece, the New year doesn't start until a vasilopita has been cut. For this reason, it's never too late to wish someone a Happy New Year.

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