New Year’s day is a special holiday for our family and religion for many reasons. Most important is to welcome in the New Year, a fresh new yearly beginning especially after the COVID-19 Pandemic. 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 eighth day after birth. Our church celebrates this event during the first Divine Liturgy of the New Year celebrated on January 1st for St. Basil The Great.
More importantly January 1st is also St. Basil’s day in the Orthodox Church. St. Basil The Great 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.
Since my baptismal name is Vasilios (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. Because of the COVID-19 Pandemic gatherings are not allowed, but hopefully next year we can get together with family and friends to welcome in the new year. When we did celebrate a few years ago 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. The main tree for this special display is a Chinese quince bonsai, loaded with fruit, I did not add any. It 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 The Great was made into an insert for a scroll to celebrate the feast day of 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.
The celebration continues with the cutting of a Vasilopita, a traditional sweet bread/cake served once a year at the New Year. It honors Saint Basil the Great, the saint for whom the cake gets its name.
A coin is baked into the cake and the person receiving the coin is to have good luck for the New Year. St. Basil The Great began this tradition by returning jewelry to people by placing one in each cake. There is a specific order of cutting the cake. First piece is for St. Basil The Great, next one for the house and the following for members of the family by seniority. Following pieces are cut for friends. Diane makes delicious Vasilopitas we all enjoy. A few years ago we went through the cutting ritual and nobody found the coin… yet. So we started another round of cutting. I took a peek and saw the outline of the coin, which will be found by the next person who cuts a piece. It was my turn for a piece, so I cut a piece from the opposite side and let another member of our family find the coin. Let’s see who gets the good luck tomorrow….. we all need it!
When I was a youngster my grandmother had a couple of customs she brought from Greece for the New Year holiday. It was important that the first visitor who sets foot into the home was ideally a young child with pure heart which 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.
Wishing everyone the best of good luck, health, prosperity in a safe New Year 2021. I look forward to a better new year where we can all get back to family, friends and bonsai activities.