Celebrating St Nicholas

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Saint Nicholas (Agios Nikolaos, in Greek) is celebrated on 6th December.  This is a sort of kick off of the Christmas season, particularly in the town of the same name, as the celebration of its patron saint is an important occasion.

Agios Nikolaos, which is normally bustling on any other day, is even more lively on 6 December.  There is music, processions, people milling about, the lights of a massive tree are turned on for the first time in the season, and then the sky rips open and bursts with fireworks in the evening.  Because Nikolaos is also a common name, it’s not rare to see little groups of family and friends celebrating someone named Nikos or Niki on their name day. What a fantastic thing, to celebrate on top of your birthday!  Any excuse to hold a big party!

The celebrations start solemnly with a religious service, followed by processions and parades.  For a taster, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8gfhwTdY5Y

Agios Nikolaos was born in 270 AD, the son of wealthy parents.  However, his parents died whilst he was young.  Whilst he inherited a huge estate, he chose a religious life and moved from Lycia to Jerusalem.  He was ordained priest, then withdrew to an ascetic life and became the abbot of a monastery, and rose through the ecclesial ranks to become an archbishop.  He was not princely, though, but concerned himself with the protection of the poor and the needy.  His charitable works attracted the attention of the Roman authorities at a time when Christians were persecuted, during the reign of Diocletian.  He was tortured.  Later, Emperor Constantine the Great recognised and even embraced Christianity, so then Nicholas was able to return to his parish, where miracles were attributed to him and he was reportedly one who could restore those suffering from all sorts of ill health.

Nicholas died on 6th December 343.  Over six hundred years later, in 1087, his relics were removed from Lycia and brought to Bari (Italy) by a group of sailors.  The relics, vitally transported to this new home, started producing miracles for the local community.  Agios Nikolaos, then, is the patron saint of seamen and sailors, and those who live by the coast.  You may imagine how important his good favour is to anyone living in an island where most important cities come with a seaview!

The Christmas festive season here is solemn and meditative, yet also quite festive and often even boisterous at nights.  You can’t help but join in the celebrations!

If you would like more information about Cretan festivities to make your travel experience more authentic, contact Karma Travel.  You will then be in good, competent hands to organise a trip where you won’t just be an oblivious tourist.

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Cavo Sidero

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Cavo Sidero is the Northeastern tip of Crete.  The place is wild and beautiful.  The coast is lined by dramatic, rugged wind-swept cliffs with boisterous waves.  At the tip of the thin peninsula, there is a French-built lighthouse.  The area is also known as Agios Isidoros after the dedication of a church once built here by a monk who had battled the waves in a perilous journey.  The church was his gift of gratitude, having survived after being adrift for many days.

There are also the remains of an ancient temple to goddess Athena, which was destroyed by an ancient tsunami that followed a volcanic eruption in Santorini.  Testament to the trecherous sea on this side of Crete, there are the sunken remains of several shipwrecks, which can be seen from time to time and seem like beached whales.

On the hills and mountains, the land is rather barren mostly due to the winds. But precisely because of the harsh conditions, there are some wonderful rare plants.  The area is protected by the Natura 2000 programme.  Even if the land is arid, it is dotted with bushes of aromatic herbs like thyme, sage and marjoram.  There are also olive trees (now still full of darkening olives).    In this area, there are eagles, vultures and falcons to be seen if you are a keen and patient watcher.

In the east, there is a palm grove beach, Vai, which is very popular with tourists.  The palm trees in this area (Phoenix theophrastii) are native to Crete, and found mainly in Vai and Preveli (see The Palm Beach of Preveli, earlier in this blog).  Sadly, the palms in Vai are suffering from an invasion of red palm weevils, an insect plague which is munching them away.   Notwithstanding the plague, the beach at Vai is beautiful and at particular times of year, there are migratory birds to be seen here.  Even flamingoes, I’m told, but I’ve missed them this time…

The area is close to the airport in Sitia, and it is likely that it won’t remain virgin territory anymore.  A court has awarded a development company the right to build up the area.  There will be resorts and golf courses, and apparently a commitment to manage the area sustainably so as not to lose its biodiversity.

If you are keen on visiting this beautiful area and admiring its natural beauty, come quickly!  Contact Karma Travel to organise your trip.  They’ll sort out your transportation and tell you about the most beautiful spots for birdwatching. If you come in the spring, there will be wild and beautiful flowers to be seen.  A local guide will be most useful, and Karma Travel can find one for you.

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