On this day in 343 AD, Saint Nicholas (a/k/a 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.
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.
On this day in 1950, Christine Onassis (Andreadis), the American-born Greek heiress (Aristotle Onassis’ only daughter), was born in New York City. Christina’s parents divorced in 1960, precipitated by her father’s affair with opera singer Maria Callas. Christina had a tempestuous personal life of her own which included four marriages. Within a 29-month period, Christina lost her entire immediate family. Her brother, Alexander died in a plane crash in Athens in 1973 at the age of 24, which devastated the family and her mother died of a suspected overdose in 1972, leaving Christina her $77 million estate. Following Alexander’s death, her father’s health began to deteriorate, and he died in March of 1975. Before he passed away, Christina began working in her father’s business as a secretary and, after his death, she inherited half of his estimated $1 billion estate – the other half going to create the Alexander Onassis Foundation. She suffered a fatal heart attack in 1988, leaving one child, a daughter named Athina, who became the sole heir to the Onassis fortune.