2017 seems like it’s going to be a very challenging year for my family and me. Tradition says that at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve a good hearted friend or relative comes to your home and enters with the right foot bringing the news of the new year so that the household will be full of happiness and prosperity.
The podariko or “first foot” as the Brits call it at my house was done by the amerikana alcoholic neighbor who walked in with her left foot instead of the right one. The doorbell rang and before I could yell out “NO” one of my daughters let her in.
I’m not one that gets hung up on religious traditions or cultural superstitions nor do I live my life worrying if others approve of my doings. But deep down inside my head, there’s a little voice that says not to even think about eating a bifteki on good Friday or taking off the red bracelet that many Greeks wear on May 1st to protect themselves from the sun’s rays during the summer months.
If you’re like me and everyone you know has more skeletons in their closet than a museum’s dinosaur bone collection don’t panic. A podariko by a toddler will do just fine given that he or she isn’t old enough to have a DUI, started smoking e-cigarettes or brought back cannabis from Colorado.
In the island of Amorgos, the podariko honors go to the man of the house (sorry ladies) or the first born spoiled son who must enter the home while holding an icon. They walk a few steps forward and say “Mesa Kalo” and then pivot walk back and say “Ekso Kako” and repeat three times (of course). What follows is the breaking of a pomegranate with its many seeds on the floor which is regarded as a symbol of fertility, prosperity, abundance and generosity followed by a teaspoon of honey for all so that the upcoming year will be full of sweetness.
In the island of Karpathos, they do something which is right up my ally. A white dog does the podariko and is given baklava as a treat with the idea that the dog will act mad thus giving strength to those that live there. Now if that wasn’t thought up by someone high on acid I don’t know what else to say.
Nursing a bad hangover with a pot of coffee and a pack of cigarettes my daughters sit my wife and I down on New Year’s Day and give us grief for not answering their texts at 4 in the morning. The kids were home alone worried while the wife and I were out partying. I told them that if they didn’t stop yelling at us, we would move out of the house.
Now it’s time for the Vasilopita cutting ritual which didn’t turn out as planned either and the family was not happy because the coin went to my all white hunting dog. The house was probably also disappointed, but the dog won the coin fair and square. Jesus got his piece followed by the Virgin Mary, and then the rest of the family followed.
The problem was that I didn’t manage the cutting properly because I used the Greek pizza cutting technique where you start with a knife down the middle and then cut into quarters then eighths and so on which resulted in sixteen pieces when I needed only seven. Now what?
I even started naming dead relatives to complete the process, and I still had some unclaimed pieces.
Named after Άγιο Βασίλη (Saint Basil), whose name day is also celebrated on January 1, the vasilopita goes way back to pre-Christian times and the Romans. The Christians adopted it in the saint’s honor. It seems to me like Agios Vasilis and Santa Claus are headed for a pay per view steel cage match in the not too distant future.
The annual card game is also a tradition that is commonplace on New Years in many Greek homes, and I lost money there also. It’s the day that every Greek gambler lives for because on that day and that day only he can come out of his shell to bring in the new year with “luck” by feeding his gambling addiction.
Well that was my New Year’s Day, and I’m already looking forward to giving my dog baklava next year, and I made a New Year’s promise to my daughters that I won’t ignore their texts anymore.