New Year’s day is a special holiday for our family and religion for at least three reasons. Most important is to welcome in the New Year, a fresh new yearly beginning. Everyone gets another opportunity to enjoy and improve their lives for another year. This also applies to our bonsai as well as we have plans to change and improve their design.
Also January 1st commemorates the feast of the circumcision of Jesus in the Orthodox Church. Jesus was Jewish and according to tradition baby boys were circumcised on the eight day after birth. Our church celebrates this event during the first Divine Liturgy of the New Year celebrated on January 1st for St. Basil.
More importantly January 1st is also St. Basil’s day in the Orthodox Church. St. Basil was a forefather of the Greek Orthodox Church and is remembered for his kindness and generosity to the poor. He was also the first to establish hospitals, which I’m personally thankful for during these past couple of months.
Since my baptismal name is Vassilios (Basil), January 1st is my names day, a holiday often celebrated more than birthdays. Sometimes the family of the person named Basil hosts an open house and friends are invited to visit. A couple of years ago Diane had New Year Open House and many of our friends were invited to help celebrate my names day. Of course I had to come up with a special alcove display in the studio featuring bonsai and the special events celebrated this day. There are many reasons to display bonsai and all of them are centered on creating a display atmosphere for enjoyment of the viewers. A Chinese quince bonsai, loaded with fruit (I did not add any) was selected to show the prosperity of the year. A Pomegranate would have been better, also a Pine showing longevity. But, I wanted to show prosperity. An icon of St. Basil was made into an insert for a scroll to celebrate the saint. Finally, Chinese quince fruit, along with a sharp, large root pruning bonsai knife was used for the accessory, with the knife commemorating the circumcision. This was a rather unusual, unorthodox display, but was created for my visitors which they enjoyed and we had many discussions. More information on display will be forthcoming in my new book The Art of Bonsai Display & Appreciation.
The celebration continues with the cutting of a Vassilopita, or St. Basil’s cake (or bread). A coin is baked into the cake and the person receiving the coin is to have good luck for the New Year. St. Basil began this tradition by returning jewelry to people by placing one in each cake. There is a specific order of cutting the cake also. First piece is for St. Basil, next one for the house and the following for members of the family by seniority. Following pieces are cut for friends. Diane makes delicious Vassilopitas we all enjoy. However yesterday we went through the cutting and nobody found the coin… yet. I took a peek and saw the outline of the coin, which will be found by the next person who cuts a piece. I want another piece, but will cut it from the opposite side and let another member of our family find the coin
When I was a youngster my grandmother had a couple of customs for the New Year holiday. It was important that the first visitor who sets foot into the home was ideally a young innocent child with pure heart would bring a good omen and luck for the remaining of the year. We always hoped for a youngster, not an elderly person.
The Pomegranate is a fruit with a long history going back to ancient times. It is widely revered as a symbol of fertility, prosperity, regeneration and the inseparable marriage of life and death. One of my tasks for my grandmother was to take a large, plump, ripe Pomegranate and smash it on the doorstep for good luck. The blessed luck was proportional to how far the seeds were spread. I also had to clean up the red mess which stains. We do not follow this tradition for obvious reasons, but I might start next year, with a piece of plastic on the floor.
Playing cards is also another Greek tradition. There are many other activities during this auspicious time, all believed to bring good luck and prosperity during the coming new year.
Our family got a new St. Bernard-Boxer shelter puppy for Christmas, named Zorba. He now joins Zeena, Zeus, Kitty Kat and Damon.
Well, Diane was the lucky person to finally find the coin in the Vasiliopita, so she will enjoy good luck for 2016. Actually, I hope my entire family and friends all enjoy:
Good Luck, Good Health and Prosperity during 2016.
May all your bonsai stay small and crooked, in the right places.