“…In the Orthodox Church, January 1st is the Feast of St. Basil the Great, who is pictured in the top portion of the icon above. Although he is celebrated in the West on June 14th we would not want to miss an opportunity to incorporate a custom and a recipe into our observance of the Twelve Days. And, since the West tends to prefer a limit of one feast to a day, we have moved Basil over to January 2nd. In Greece, it is the custom to bake a bread or cake called Vassilopita (Basil in Greek is Vassilis). The cake has a coin baked into it and the person who gets the coin in his or her piece of cake is destined for good luck in the coming year. Here is a link to one of the many recipes for Vassilopita, together with an explanation of the protocols for cutting and distributing the pieces….”
From the Chambers’ Book of Days
That peculiar phase of superstition which has regard to lucky or unlucky, good or evil days, is to be found in all ages and climes, wherever the mystery-man of a tribe, or the sacerdotal caste of a nation, has acquired rule or authority over the minds of the people.
All over the East, among the populations of antiquity, arc to be found traces of this almost universal worship of luck. It is one form of that culture of the beneficent and the maleficent principles, which marks the belief in good and evil, as an antagonistic duality of gods. From ancient Egypt the evil or unlucky days have received the name of “Egyptian days.’ Nor is it only in pagan, but in Christian times, that this superstition has held its potent sway. No season of year, no month, no week, is free from those untoward days on which it is dangerous, if not fatal, to begin any enterprise, work, or travel. They begin with New-Year’s Day, and they only end with the last day of December. Passing over the heathen augurs, who predicted fortunate days for sacrifice or trade, wedding or war, let us see what our Anglo-Saxon forefathers believed in this matter of days. A Saxon MS. (Cott. MS. Vitell, C. viii. fo. 20) gives the following account of these Dies Mali – “Three days there are in the year, which we call Egyptian days; that is, in our language, dangerous days, on any occasion whatever, to the blood of man or beast. In the month which we call April, the last Monday; and then is the second, at the coming in of the month we call August; then is the third, which is the first Monday of the going out of the month of December. He who on these three days reduces blood, be it of man, be it of beast, this we have heard say, that speedily on the first or seventh day, his life he will end. Or if his life be longer, so that he come not to the seventh day, or if he drink some time in these three days, he will end his life; and he that tastes of goose-flesh, within forty days’ space his life he will end.’
In the ancient Exeter Kalendar, a MS. said to be of the age of Henry II, the first or Kalends of January is set down as ‘Dies Mala.’
These Saxon Kalendars give us a total of about 24 evil days in the 365; or about one such in every fifteen. But the superstition ‘lengthened its cords and strengthened its stakes; ‘it seems to have been felt or feared that the black days had but too small a hold on their regarders; so they were multiplied.
‘Astronomers say that six days of the year are perilous of death; and therefore they forbid men to let blood on them, or take any drink; that is to say, January 3rd, July 1st, October 2nd, the last of April, August 1st, the last day going out of December. These six days with great diligence ought to be kept, but namely [mainly?] the latter three, for all the veins are then full. For then, whether man or beast be knit in them within 7 days, or certainly within 14 days, he shall die. And if they take any drinks within 15 days, they shall die; and if they eat any goose in these 3 days, within 40 days they shall die; and if any child be born in these 3 latter days, they shall die a wicked death. Astronomers and astrologers say that in the beginning of March, the seventh night, or the fourteenth day, let the blood of the right arm; and iii the beginning of April, the 11th day, of the left arm; and in the end of May, 3rd or 5th (lay, on whether arm thou wilt; and thus, of all the year, thou shalt orderly be kept from the fever, the falling gout, the sister gout, and loss of thy sight.’ Book of Knowledge, b. 1. p. 19.
Those who may be inclined to pursue this subject more fully, will find an essay on ‘Day-Fatality,’ in John. Aubrey’s Miscellanies, in which he notes the days lucky and unlucky, of the Jews, Greeks, Romans, and of various distinguished individuals of later times.
In a comparatively modern MS. Kalendar, of the time of Henry VI, in the writer’s possession, one page of vellum is filled with the following, of which we modernise the spelling:
These underwritten be the perilous day’s, for to take any sickness in, or to be hurt in, or to be wedded in, or to take any journey upon, or to begin any work on, that he would well speed. The number of these days be in the year 32; they be these:
- In January there be 7: 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 10th, and 15th.
- In February be 3: 6th, 7th, and 18th.
- In March be 3: 1st, 6th, and 8th.
- In April be 2: 6th and 11th.
- In May be 3: 5th, 6th, and 7th.
- In June be 2: 7th and 15th.
- In July be 2: 5th and 19th.
- In August be 2: 15th and 19th.
- In September be 2: 6th and 7th.
- In October is 1: 6th.
- In November be 2: 15th and 16th.
- in December be 3: 15th, 16th, and 17th
The copyist of this dread list of evil days, while apparently giving the superstition a qualified credence, manifests a higher and nobler faith, lifting his aspiration above days and seasons; for he has appended to the catalogue, in a bold firm hand of the time ‘Sed tamen in Domino confide.’ (But, notwithstanding, I will trust in the Lord.) Neither in this Kalendar, nor in another of the same owner, prefixed to a small MS. volume containing a copy of Magna Charta, &c., is there inserted in the body of the Kalendar anything to denote a ‘Dies Mala.’ After the Reformation, the old evil days appear to have abated much of the ancient malevolent influences, and to have left behind them only a general superstition against fishermen setting out to fish, or seamen to take a voyage, or landsmen a journey, or domestic servants to enter on a new place–on a Friday. In many country districts, especially in the north of England, no weddings take place on Friday, from this cause. According to a rhyming proverb, ‘Friday’s moon, come when it will, comes too soon.’ Sir Thomas Overbury, in his charming sketch of a milkmaid, says. ‘Her dreams are so chaste, that she dare tell them; only a Friday’s dream is all her superstition; and she consents for fear of anger.’ Erasmus dwells on the ‘extraordinary inconsistency’ of the English of his day, in eating flesh in Lent, yet holding it a heinous offence to eat any on a Friday out of Lent.
The Friday superstitions cannot be wholly explained by the fact that it was ordained to be hold as a fast by the Christians of Rome. Some portion of its maleficent character is probably clue to the character of the Scandinavian Venus Freya, the wife of Odin, and goddess of fecundity But we are met on the other hand by the fact that amongst the Brahmins of India a like superstitious aversion to Friday prevails. They say that ‘on this day no business must be commenced.’ And herein is the fate foreshadowed of any antiquary who seeks to trace one of our still lingering superstitions to its source. Like the bewildered traveller at the cross roads, he knows not which to take. One leads him into the ancient Teuton forests; a second amongst the wilds of Scandinavia; a third to papal, and thence to pagan Rome; and a fourth carries him to the far east, and there he is left with the conviction that much of what is old and quaint and strange among its, of the superstitious relics of our fore-elders, has its root deep in the soil of one of the ancient homes of the race.