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This Week in History: December 4th to 10th

December 5th:  

On this day in 1924, George Savalas, the Greek-American actor, was born in the Bronx in New York. He attended Holy Cross Institute in Connecticut and Mineola High School on Long Island before studying drama at Columbia University’s school of the performing arts. Thus began his career as a stage actor and acting instructor. George was the younger brother of actor Telly Savalas, with whom he acted in the popular 1970s TV crime series Kojak (George played Detective Stavros to Telly’s Kojak). After Kojak ended, he recorded a Top-10 Greek language record and toured with his band at many major venues including Carnegie Hall. In addition to his performing career, he served in the Pacific during World War II and was a decorated U.S. Navy gunner. George died of leukemia at the young age of 60 and was survived by his wife and their six children (five sons and one daughter). 

December 6th:  

On this day in 343 AD, Saint Nicholas (AKA Nikolaos of Myra), the Greek Bishop who became the model for Santa Claus, died at the age of 73. Born in the village of Patara in Asia Minor (an area that was Greek on the southern coast of Turkey), Nicholas was raised by wealthy parents to be a devout Christian. Unfortunately, Nicholas’ parents died in an epidemic when he was still young – as a result, he decided to obey Jesus’ words to “sell what you own and give the money to the poor,” and used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. Saint Nicholas is one of the most popular saints commemorated in the Eastern and Western churches. He became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. Through the centuries, many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas’ life and deeds. One of these stories is about a poor man with three daughters. In those days a young woman’s father had to offer prospective husbands something of value (a dowry). Without a dowry, a woman was unlikely to marry. This poor man’s daughters, without dowries, were therefore destined to be sold into slavery. Mysteriously, a bag of gold appeared in their home providing the needed dowries. The bags of gold, tossed through an open window, are said to have landed in stockings or shoes left before the fire to dry. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas. 

December 8th:  

On this day in 1969, Olympic Airways Flight 954 crashed into a mountain during a storm near Keratea in Greece. All 85 passengers and the five crew members on board died in the crash. The flight was a domestic scheduled passenger service from Chania, Crete to Athens. While on approach to Athens, the aircraft struck Mount Paneio at an altitude of approximately 2,000 feet. The weather at the time of the crash was characterized by rain and high winds. The crash of Flight 954 was the deadliest aviation accident in Greek history at the time it took place – a record it maintained until the crash of a Helios Airways flight nearly thirty-six years later. It is still the deadliest crash in the history of Olympic Airways. Later it was ruled that the flight crew had deviated from the proper track and descended below the minimum safe altitude while making its approach to Athens airport. 

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