The Feast Day of Agios Nikolaos

Saint Nicholas, the Miracle Worker, and the generous Santa Claus long-awaited by children

 Every December 6, Christians everywhere celebrate St. Nicholas, known as a miracle worker, protector of children, the needy, and those in danger, sailors and fishermen. Nicholas is the patron saint of Greece, Russia, Sicily, and the cities of Amsterdam and Moscow. Also, he is the patron saint of ships and navigation, which makes this day be marked by official festivities in many port cities around the world. 
 Although he is one of the most popular saints of the Christian church, his existence is not attested by any document written during his life, the first records appearing at approx. 350 years after his death. The fascinating life story of the man with special moral and spiritual virtues, who would later be canonized and honored under the name of Saint Nicholas, took place somewhere in the III-IV centuries, during the Roman Empire. St. Nicholas is said to have lived between 270-343 AD, becoming known as the Christian bishop of the Greek maritime city of Myra in Lycia, Asia Minor (today, the city of Demre in the province of Antalya, Turkey).

 Born in Patara, Lycia, in a family of educated and wealthy Christian Greeks, becomes an orphan from an early age, being raised afterward by his uncle, the bishop of Patara. Endowed with a great spiritual calling, he makes a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, to follow the teachings of Jesus and to be initiated into the sacred Christian secrets. On his return home, he dedicated himself to monastic life, reaching the rank of the archbishop of the city of Myra in Lycia.

 In historical times when the Romans ruled by Diocletian emperor persecuted Christians, from his position, he is distinguished by noble and courageous deeds, organizing settlements for the sick and poor and leading various charities, helping the victims of injustice, proving miraculous healing powers, and exerting great influence on people.  The legend tells of the generosity of Archbishop Nicholas, who saved three young women from a life of slavery and prostitution, secretly offering three bags of gold to their indebted father, to ensure their freedom and dowry.

 Defying the authorities with his spirit of justice and truth and his unwavering faith in the teachings of Jesus, Archbishop Nicholas ends up being persecuted and eventually exiled. He died on December 6, 343 AD, his remains being kept in the city of Myra until the eleventh century. In 1087, the Italian city of Bari organized an expedition to locate the tomb of the Christian saint and procure his remains. The reliquary captured by Italian sailors was transported to Bari on the south-east coast of Italy and placed in the crypt of the Basilica of San Nicola, where it is still today.

 For his example of kindness and help to needy people, as well as for the beneficial influence he has in the conscience of believers even after his death, St. Nicholas is much loved especially in the Christian East, being called "the miracle worker". Beyond the religious figure, St. Nicholas - aka Santa Claus - is one of the adored heroes of modern myths, being the generous old man who on the night of December 5 to 6, sneaks the night and fills children's boots with gifts, spreading the spirit of winter holidays.

 Since the 19th century, in Western countries, by the abbreviation of the name Nikolaos, the saint is called Santa Claus and his identity became associated with the Christmas holiday through the artists and writers who spread his image and his aura of a patron saint of children and a gift-giver, who fulfills their desires. This metamorphosis was somehow favored in the modern days by the already famous image of the plump old man in a red suit and white beard, who happily give gifts to children, created in 1931 by the Coca Cola company and which continues to this day, accompanying commercial winter holiday campaigns.

Agios Nikolaos, the Protector of a Dream City in Crete

 On December 6, in Greece and Crete, hundreds of churches celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas. On the islands and in the port cities military festivities take place, honoring the day of the Greek Naval Forces and the Coast Guard. Also on this day, all those who bear the name of Nikolaos, Nikos, Nicholas (very popular among the Greeks), or Nikoleta, Nikolina, Nick, celebrate their name day.

 In Crete, St. Nicholas is also the spiritual saint and patron of the beautiful city of Agios Nikolaos and this day is an official holiday. The history of the city of Agios Nikolaos has its roots in the  Neolithic era (ca. 3000 BC) when the first human settlements were formed in this part of the island. The area continues to develop during the Minoan civilization, but its flowering period comes later, between the sec. III-VI, when the ancient port "Latos Pros Kamara" located approximately on the place where the city of Agios Nikolaos is today, registers an intense economic activity, according to the archaeological evidence. 

 From its decline in the 6th century until the 13th century, no written documents have been discovered about Agios Nikolaos. From the beginning of the 13th century, during the Venetian and then Ottoman occupation, the port continues to function as a provincial settlement. Knowing periods of pirate attacks, invasions, or natural cataclysms, the town does not expand too much and the old inhabitants almost abandon it, wandering to the mountains.

 After the end of the Ottoman occupation, the hearth of the old fishing village of Mandraki - the nucleus around which the present-day town of Agios Nikolaos developed - was repopulated and rebuilt, with locals living off fishing and the citrus trade. The name Agios Nikolaos itself is not very old, the city receiving its name after the small church with a dome located on the small peninsula of Ammoudi, opposite the coastal road.

 With the development of mass tourism in the 1970s, the first hotels appeared in Agios Nikolaos, the city becoming an increasingly well-known summer destination in eastern Crete. Today, the city lives mainly from tourism, and thanks to its natural fairytale setting, its cosmopolitan personality, and its elegant atmosphere, it is nicknamed Saint Tropez of Crete. Don't forget to put Agios Nikolaos on your dream-destinations list!

Happy Name Day, Xronia Polla, on Saint Nicholas!


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