In Greece, St. Basil’s Day, or New years
Day, is the time for exchanging gifts. St. Basil is considered the gift
bringer and is highly honored by the Greeks. Born in the town of Caesarea
in Asia Minor in 329 A.D; he was a contemporary of St. Nicholas of Myra,
although the two never met.
His family was quite wealthy and quite
large. St. Basil had four brothers and five sisters. They were also a very
religious family. Of the ten children, four were eventually canonized as
saints, as were the father, mother and two grandmothers. They were quite a
As a young man, St. Basil was well
educated by tutors. At sixteen he was sent to Athens in Greece to complete
his education, since Athens was the real center of learning at that time.
St. Basil was a good student and often after a hard day of study, he liked
to relax by taking a walk and singing hymns as he went along. One day he
came across some boys who made fun of him because he was singing hymns in
praise of God. They wanted to pick a fight with him, when suddenly the
staff he was holding burst into bloom. Frightened and bewildered, the boys
left him alone. The staff had bloomed into the Christmas Rose and the
people of Greece remember this event every year on St. Basil’s feast
St. Basil returned to Caesarea where he
became a monk. Eventually a community of monks grew up around him. They
founded orphanages and schools and the monks became good teachers to the
After many years, St. Basil became Bishop
of Caesarea and was a true shepherd to his flock. He established
institutions for the sick and the needy, and for strangers and pilgrims.
He provided training for unskilled workers and taught the rich to use
their generosity to help the poor. St. Basil died, worn out by work,
ill-health and the austerities of life, in 379 A.D., on January 1, when he
was only 49 years old. The people of Greece never forgot him and his
wonderful generosity and every year they commemorate his coming to Athens
on a ship. In Athens itself, models of ships are carried around by
carolers who make a collection of money in them for the poor.
Children receive gifts from St. Basil on
his feast day and traditional ‘Basil’ cakes are eaten to honor this
patron saint of Greece.
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