Family households threw dice to determine who would become the temporary (much like Ashish) monarch during the festival of Saturnalia, the pagan Roman winter solstice festival.

It was a public holiday celebrated around December 25th in the family home. A time for feasting, goodwill, giving to the poor and decorating trees.

The first-century CE poet Gaius Valerius Catullus described Saturnalia as ‘the best of times’ when dress codes were relaxed, and small gifts such as dolls, candles and caged birds were exchanged.

Saturnalia also meant an exchange of social roles, decidedly temporary. The wealthy were expected to pay the month’s rent for those who couldn’t afford it; and masters and slaves swapped clothes.

It began as a farmer’s festival to mark the end of the autumn planting season in honor of Saturn (satus means sowing). Archaeological sites from the Roman coastal province of Constantine, now in Algeria, show that the cult of Saturn survived there until the early third century CE.

Saturnalia grew longer and was held on progressively later dates during the Roman era. During the reign of the Emperor Augustus (63 BCE-14CE), it was a two-day event beginning on December 17th. But it evolved over time into a seven-day happening. Changes to the Roman calendar moved the end of Saturnalia to December 25th, around the time of the date of the winter solstice.

In honor of the season, whatever you choose to call it, we wanted to share some pictures from Big Five’s holiday/winter (remember we are in Florida) party here. No, we did not swap clothing. That would have been creepy.  

All of us at Big Five wish you and your families a holiday filled with joy, celebration and all good things (and maybe a few silly ones).  And, may 2017 be a year of peace, health and prosperity for us all.


A mother kicking her baby

But in the world of giraffes it’s true. A giraffe gives birth standing up and the newborn falls almost six feet to the ground! The baby is somewhat protected during the fall by the sac it is enveloped in.

Yet despite such an abrupt and dramatic entry into the world, a newborn calf is in for more. The mother giraffe first lovingly lowers her head to clean her baby. And then… she lifts her long leg and kicks the newborn. As the baby lies curled up, the mother continues to kick the calf until the little giraffe, still trembling and exhausted, pushes its limbs outward and for the first time stands on its feet. Then, there comes another kick from mom that knocks the baby down. But the youngster quickly recovers and stands up. The mother has taught her baby the first lesson of survival – learn to quickly get up and to run with the pack, or become prey to lions, leopards or other predators.

Unless it learns this lesson immediately, it has no chance at life. As it is, only about 25% of newborn giraffes survive to adulthood. But the little giraffe can stand up and run within an hour after birth. Of course, little is a matter of perspective. This baby actually stands about six feet tall when born, and can weigh in at about 150 to 200 pounds.

Giraffe have no formal breeding seasons as they are designed to be able to shift feeding patterns in order to maintain a high nutrient diet throughout most of the year. It has been observed that calving can be synchronized in herds to provide safety in numbers against predators.

Giraffes can survive in the wild for about 20 to 25 years with the right conditions. Unfortunately, as of 2014, there were only about 80,000 giraffes left in all of Africa, according to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. This is a major drop from 1999, when there were an estimated 140,000 giraffes on the continent.

It was once thought that there was one single living species of giraffe with numerous subspecies, but research into the mitochondrial and nuclear DNA have revealed four to six distinct extant species that include Northern Giraffe, Southern Giraffe, Masai Giraffe and Reticulated Giraffe.

There are a variety of wonderful places to go in search of these lanky beauties, including Etosha National Park in Namibia. Flat, open spaces with thorny acacia trees is ideal giraffe country, especially around watering holes, where you will also find many other animals including impala, zebra and oryx. Explore the world of giraffes in Etosha National Park on our Namibia Flying Safari.


P.S.  The holidays are closing in fast – just 288 hours left, but who’s counting. Ask us about last-minute holiday space.


Nikki Visootha Lohitnavy is the first and only female winemaker of Thailand. A non-traditional woman in a non-traditional grape-growing region of the tropics, she is the Director of Viticulture and Winemaking Operations at her family’s winery, GranMonte Estate Vineyard. Graduated from the University of Adelaide in December 2008, she is the only scholar in history of university to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Oenology together with Honours in Viticulture. Her research was published in two respected scientific journals, Journal of Food Quality and Preference (UK) and Vitis (USA).

After graduation, she returned to the land in Northeast Thailand, once a cornfield and cashew plantation, where her father, Visooth Lohitnavy, established the vineyard in 1999. He had a vision for what he wanted to create there; and he studied diligently the vines and soil types to choose just the right varieties that would grow in his vineyard and yield fruit for future generations.

Set in the foothills of Khao Yai National Park, some 350 meters/1,148 feet above sea level, GranMonte Estate Vineyard lies in Asoke Valley, known for its beautiful yellow blossoms indigenous to the region. GranMonte, has a planting area of about 90 rai (approximately 15 hectares/36 acres). It has become a family affair that includes Lohitnavy, his wife, Sakuna, and their two daughters, Mimi and Nikki.

Today, Nikki adapts new winemaking innovations and techniques in the vineyard and wines to further accelerate GranMonte and Thai wines to the highest international quality. The vineyard produces some 15 varieties plus fresh grape juice. The wine grape varieties grown include Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Semillon, Verdelho, Durif and Grenache. The table grapes come in many varieties with or without seeds, such as Muscat of Alexandria and Hamburg, Thomson, Perlette and Maroo seedless grapes.

The wines have won more than 100 awards in the past four years, including two gold medals and 10 silver medals at the 2016 AWC Vienna, the largest officially recognized international wine competition in the world. Some 1800 wine producers submitted 12,826 wines for judging this year. GranMonte was also judged the Best National Producer of Thailand.

In this unconventional viticulture climate, the winery employs a precision farming system called ‘smart vineyard’, which incorporates a microclimate monitoring system. It combines scientific experiences in grape diseases with leading edge technologies that include cameras and instruments that monitor rain, wind and soil.

GranMonte Estate is only about 160 kilometers/99 miles from Bangkok in a perfect setting with a serene atmosphere and beautiful natural surroundings. It includes a guest house that offers a quiet and unique retreat in Thailand within the idyllic vineyard.

You can experience this award-winning Thai vineyard on our 17-day Thailand and Cambodia adventure.


P.S.  Holiday countdown continues whether we like it or not: Only 432 hours left until you have a problem. Call about last-minute available space.


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