Agios Yakinthos: Cretan “Valentine’s Day” in July
Valentine’s Day in Georgioupoli is not a traditional holiday. In fact, Crete has embraced Valentine’s Day because of the commercial influences from the West. The Greek Orthodox Church does not observe this holiday and the majority of the residents of Georgioupoli are Greek Orthodox. Many of the older locals will simply ignore the date, while the younger ones will celebrate exchanging roses and chocolates.
If you want to spend Valentine’s Day in Georgioupoli in February, you will not find too many things to do. The village is calm – last year’s tourists are long gone as the winter months on Crete are not sunny enough to attract the beach crowds. Many hotels, resorts, and restaurants are closed. However, family-style tavernas remain open and welcome mainly local families dining together. The local bakeries prepare pretty heart-shaped cakes inscribed with Σ’αγαπώ (S ‘Agapo – Greek for I love you) and florists make beautiful arrangements for romantics who decide to observe the holiday, not necessarily out of faith, but because it’s nice to see that special someone in your life smile.
Not many Georgioupoli visitors know, but Crete has its own “saint of love,” personified by Agios Yakinthos, a saint whose martyrdom for the love of God was observed during the reign of Roman emperor Trajan. According to the legend, Yakinthos, who, at the time was the emperor’s chamberlain, fought against persecution against Christians by openly proclaiming his Christian faith. Enraged, Trajan ordered Yakinthos to be imprisoned without food, and the young man, aged twenty, starved to death. A possible explanation as to why Yakinthos is celebrated as a saint of love comes from Greek author Maro Vamvounaki:
When a young man, 20 years old, can defend to the death his faith, can certainly do the same for the belief in mother, homeland, friend, putting feelings of a deep heart above all, even and over the ephemeral life. We are aware that love is divine and that the man in love has beforehand accepted the love of God and delights His trust.
Although celebrated on the 3rd of July every year, the Cretan love saint is also honored with an annual festival known as Yakinthia, which, in 2018, marks its 20th edition.
Yakinthia was founded by George Dramountanis, a poet, songwriter and singer from Anogia, known as Loudovikos of Anogeia. Since 1998, the festival “operates as a summer school of environmental harmony, intellectual culture, and prayer,” in the words of its organizers. With a rich artistic and cultural program, the festival is quite worth the two-hour drive from Georgioupoli.
Besides, in Anogia, you can always visit the chapel of Agios Yakinthos, a new structure, however, built the ancient style of the Cretan “mitato.” The circular structure is almost empty inside, only featuring a lifesize representation of the saint and candle stands. The village itself is interesting to visit, as there’s plenty to do and see: a visit to the local Folk Art Museum, or to the Museum Grillios for original wood carvings and paintings by Alkiviadis Skoulas, or a hike up the Nida Plateau to visit the Ideon Andron Cave where legends claim that the mightiest of the Olympian god, Zeus, grew up.