Friday, 1 January 2010


“Let the rain kiss you. Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops. Let the rain sing you a lullaby.” - Langston Hughes

The storm came at about 9:00 pm last night and it was a wild one. Much lightning and thunder with lashing rain that held until after midnight. It did ruin the outing for many people who had gathered by the riverside to watch the fireworks show. But they still had the fireworks, although it was poor competition for the lightning. Nevertheless, they say that rain on New Year’s Eve is good luck, it bodes well for the year ahead…

We stayed inside and had a quiet night. Listening to the thunder and the rain outside was consolation enough. The night was humid and the house still hot. Thank heavens for the air conditioners. We don’t use them often, but they are worth their weight in gold on days and nights such as these.

The day today was relaxing and serene. We had quite a few phone calls in the morning with people ringing us to wish us Happy New Year and we rang a few ourselves. The weather continued being overcast and humid, with the occasional shower. Another storm tonight with more lightning and thunder.

January is named after Janus, the Roman two-headed god; and the choice is particularly apt for this month.  One of Janus’s faces is old and weary, looking back towards the year that has just been, and the other face youthful and carefree, full of hope, looking ahead towards the year that will be.  Janus was the god of doorways, the keeper of the doors of heaven and earth.  He is usually portrayed holding a sceptre in his left hand and in his right a key.  The sceptre is a symbol of power while the key was used to lock the door out of which the old year left and open the door from which the new years entered.  He must have been a god of contradictions, Janus. Surely he could not have been offended if he were called “two-faced”. One can imagine him in constant interminable arguments with himself. A splitting headache would have been the result, I am sure!
In Anglo-Saxon, this month was called Giuli, in reference to Yuletide.  In Gaelic, January is An ceud Mhìos na Bliadhna “the first month of the year”.  In Welsh, January is Ionawr.

In the Greek Orthodox calendar, today is St Basil’s Day. St Basil was one of the Fathers of the Greek Orthodox Church. He was born in Caesarea (Palestine) in the fourth century AD and during his life he sailed to Greece, where he was active, until his death on the 1st of January.  Many legends relating to his life commemorate his kindness to children.  This has led to the custom of gift giving on New Year’s Day in Greece.  St Basil has been equated with the Santa Claus of other nations.  Being the first day of the year, tradition has it that one must receive money on this day (and hence continue to receive it everyday of that year!).  This is the Greek custom of the “bonamas” (a term perhaps related to the Italian buon anno or even the French bonne âme), a monetary gift to friends and relatives.  The vassilopitta, St Basil’s Cake, is another tradition, and this is a sweet, raised yeast cake which contains a silver or gold coin (depending on the family’s finances!).  The father of the family cuts the cake after the New Year is heralded in and distributes the pieces in strict order: First, one for the Saints, then one for the House, then one for each member of the family, from the most senior to the youngest child. Then pieces for the guests, livestock and then for the poor, the remainder being for the “house”.  The person finding the lucky coin is assured of luck for the rest of the year.

The tradition of the “first foot” or podhariko is widespread in Greece, as it is in some other European countries, and the British Isles.  This involves the first visitor to enter the house on New Year’s Day.  He sets the pattern of good or bad luck that will enter the house for the year.  The luckiest first foot is a dark-haired stranger who must be male.  Unlucky first foots are female, red or blond-haired, cross-eyed, with eyebrows that meet across the nose.  The first foot must have been outside the house before midnight and must enter the house any time after the clock has struck midnight, as long as he is the first to come in.  Good luck is ensured if the “first foot” brings with him some token gift, a loaf of bread symbolising sustenance for the whole year, coal or wood symbolising warmth or a few coins or some salt, symbolising prosperity.

Other Greek traditional sweets for New Year’s Day (except the vassilopitta) are melomakarona (honey macaroons see recipe below) and dhiples (thin, crisply fried pancakes served with honey and crushed nuts).  A renewal of the water in the house is another custom.  Fresh spring water is drawn and taken into the house on New Year’s morning as St Basil’s Water.  This is used to fill ewers, jugs, vases and other containers, thus blessing the house for the whole year.

Carolling is popular and the carollers must be given some money to ensure prosperity for the coming year.  The carol sung is the New Year’s kalanda (from the Latin calendae, first day of the month). The carollers often hold a model of a sailing ship, beautifully made and decorated, symbolising St Basil’s ship on which he sailed to Greece. They accompany themselves with steel triangles, drums, fifes and other folk instruments while going around from house to house.

MELOMAKARONA (Honey  Macaroons)

3    cups oil
1    cup orange juice
1/2    cup brandy
1    cup sugar
1/2    kg self raising flour
1/2    kg fine semolina
1    teaspoonful ground cinnamon
    toasted sesame seeds mixed with chopped walnuts, ground cloves/cinnamon

2    cups sugar
2    cups honey        for the syrup
2    cups water

Whisk the oil until well aerated and add the orange juice and the brandy little by little. Continue beating well to keep the oil/juice emulsion aerated. Mix the cinnamon with the flour and add to the oil mixture little by little. Knead into a firm paste and shape into elongated oval macaroons placing them on a greased baking tray. Bake them in a hot oven until golden brown.  Allow the macaroons to cool. Prepare the syrup by boiling the ingredients for 10 minutes. Dip each macaroon into the boiling syrup until saturated, and arrange in layers, sprinkling each layer liberally with the sesame-walnut mixture.

God be here, God be there,
We wish you all a happy year!
God without, God within,
Let the Old Year out and the New Year in!

                Anonymous English Rhyme

It is now a well-entrenched custom in many countries while recovering from the New Year’s Eve party, to set aside a few minutes on New Year’s Day and make New Year’s Resolutions.  Usually these resolutions are of the self-improvement type, renouncing bad habits, improving oneself as a person and generally making oneself a better member of society. One may vow to give up smoking, become involved in a community group, drink less, take up a new hobby or become fit.  Needless to say that in most cases, these resolutions are forgotten barely has the sun set on January the 1st!

In many countries it was believed that whatever one did on January 1st would influence what transpired over the whole year. Hence, this was a day of merry-making, good food, sweet words and pleasantries. No work was done, nothing was taken out of the house (only brought in). Especially so with money, fuel, matches and bread such that one would not lack any of these during the year. No bills or debts were paid on this day and nothing was lent out. If one had to take something out of the house that day, a coin was taken out the previous night and then brought in the next morning before one took out the item.
    Take out then take in, bad luck will begin;
    Take in, then take out good luck will come about.


  1. Happy new year Nicholas may it bring your hearts desire.

  2. How interesting! Janus looks confused to me! He wouldn't know whether he coming or going.
    The honey macaroons are delicious. I have had them at a Greek patisserie here and they were nutty, crumbly, honey-sweet and very fragrant.
    The Carol for New Year is very nice!

    Best wishes to you and your family!!!!