ΖΗΤΩ ΕΛΛΑΣ! Greek Independence Day: History, Celebration

Today we celebrate the “dipli yiorti” — double holiday — Greek Independence Day, commemorating the revolution to emancipate Greeks from 400 years of oppression under Ottoman rule, and the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary.

 

Here’s your Greek Independence Day primer, with information on history, commemorations, and more.

 

 

Greek Independence Day COURTESY GOOGLE IMAGES
COURTESY GOOGLE IMAGES

 

 

History

On March 25, 1821, at Ayia Lavra in Kalavryta, Bishop Germanos of Patras blessed and raised the Greek ‘flag of freedom’, thus declaring the start of the Greek War of Independence. The Ottoman Empire had ruled the Greeks for 400 years, and the time had come to fight for freedom.

The Greeks proclaimed “Eleftheria i thanatos!” (Liberty or death!) — some say this is reminiscent of Patrick Henry’s immortal words, “Give me liberty or give me death,” which he uttered in 1775 in encouragement of an American revolution.

For a decade, the Greeks fought valiantly, often against armies outnumbering their own. By the late 1820s, Britain, France, and Russia lent substantial support, helping Greece to finally overcome the Ottoman Army – effectively ending 400 years of slavery. Greece was officially a free nation in 1832.

Through the years, we’ve heard the names of the heroes of the revolution: Kolokotronis, Kapodistrias, Karaiskakis, PapaflessasBouboulina, Mavrogenous, and more. Take this opportunity to learn about these brave individuals, and their important contributions. Learn abou the Filiki Etairia.

 

Related: Watch this video about Greek Independence Day

 

Religious Holiday

Let us not forget, the celebration of Greek Independence Day falls on the day we also commemorate the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. This is not by coincidence. The freedom fighters chose that day specifically, as they felt that since it was a holy day, then they might receive divine intervention or assistance in their efforts. Father Asimakis Zaimis blessed two klephtes, Hondrogiannis and Petiotis, who attacked Turkish tax collectors on their way to Tripolis. After the blessing, which also included a blessing of their weapons and the movement, Haralampis and Petmezas raised the flag of revolution at Ayia Lavra Monastery in Kalavryta.

 

The Greek Flag

The Greek “simaia” or flag commonly referred to, as “Galanolefki” or “Kianolefki,” literally meaning blue and white, is comprised of nine stripes, alternating blue and white, thus the name. The cross in the upper left corner identifies the religion of the people of Greece, Orthodox Christianity.

There are a few theories on why there are nine stripes. One says that there are nine stripes in reference to the nine syllables in the famous phrase, “Eleftheria i thanatos!” Five blue stripes are for the five syllables in “eleftheria” and four white stripes for the four syllables in “i thanatos.”

Another theory states that the nine stripes are to signify the nine muses, the mythological goddesses of art and civilization. Yet another simply states that nine was chosen, because it has traditionally been a significant number to the Greeks.

Now the selection of the colors blue and white have significance as well. There are also a few different stories about their selection. Many say that the blue and white are symbolic of the sea and sky, combined with the white clouds and waves. Some say the colors were picked simply because they reflected the colors of the traditional dress on many islands, as well as the mainland. It’s no surprise since white and blue have represented Greece since antiquity.  Incidentally, the shades of blue in the flag have altered over the years.

The pattern of the flag has changed over Greece’s history. In previous times, the flag had a cross and as many as 16 stripes. This was said to be an iteration of the flag used during the early part of the revolution. Even earlier, the flag had only stripes. The First National Assembly at Epidavros approved the current flag in 1822.

The current version is said to be derived from the family flag of the Kallergis family, a powerful group on the island of Crete. This famous family gave forth many military and key political figures in Greek history. Their flag contained a coat of arms, along with a cross and nine stripes. They derived their version from the standards of an ancestor of theirs, none other than the Byzantine Emperor Nikiphoros II Phokas.

Now you know the history. It’s time to get out your flag and proudly fly it!

 

The Greek National Anthem

Most people simply call it “Se gnorizo,” the opening words of the song, however, the song is based on the poem, “Hymn to Liberty” by Dionysios Solomos. The famous poet, then only 25, hailed from the island of Zakynthos. His poem, written in 1824, was inspired by the Greek revolution. Prominent composer, Nikolaos Mantzaros, from the island of Kerkyra, set Solomos’ moving prose to music in 1828.

It was not until 1864, when King George I assumed the throne, (he replaced the deposed King Otto, who was in power when the song was written), that the song was adopted as the country’s national anthem. King Otto, did, however, herald the two for their work, both in 1845 and in 1849.

Since the national anthem that the 17-year-old George “inherited” spoke mainly about Otto, he decided to seek another anthem; he thought it best that the song be the product of a Greek composer, and be respectful of music and poetry. So how about a poem set to music? The song had been popular since the time of the revolution, and was often sung during celebrations and other patriotic meetings. The choice was both logical and appropriate.

By the way, the song’s music is written in 6/4 tempo, which, by the way is nearly identical to the tempo of the very famous dance, tsamiko. Coincidence?

Do you know the words? Here’s a refresher, listed phonetically in Greek, along with the English translation.

Se gnoriso apo tin kopsi, Tou spathiou tin tromeri,

Se gnoriso apo tin opsi, Pou me via metra tin yi.

Ap’ ta kokala vialmeni, Ton Ellinon ta iera,

Ke san prota andriomeni, Haire, o haire, Eleftheria!

Ke san prota andriomeni, Haire, o haire, Eleftheria!

Ke san prota andriomeni, Haire, o haire, Eleftheria!

~

I know you by the fearsome slash of the sword

I know you by the stance, which with a glance surveys the land

Emerged from the sacred bones of the Hellenes

And empowered as in the past

Hail, Oh Hail Liberty!

(English translation, courtesy of John J. Chiakulas, PhD.)

 

Common Phrases

For those that don’t know, when attending celebrations, you’ll hear several phrases chanted by the masses. Here’s your crash course!

Zito!” simply means, “Long live.” You’ll hear this in phrases such as:

Zito Ellas!”  – long live Greece!

Zito to ethnos!” –  long live our nation!

Zito i eleftheria!” – long live freedom!

 

Greek School Celebrations

Greek school children around the world will don ethnic costumes, and present songs, dances, skits, and poems about this important day in history. Attend one of these performances. The children perform with great zeal. Their Hellenic pride is being cultivated, and it shows. This history is not taught in schools. That’s but another reason why Greek schools are so important to the preservation and proliferation of our rich heritage, language, and faith.

 

Time to Celebrate!

This year, celebrations commemorating the 195th anniversary of Greek Independence Day are going on all over the world. Some celebrations have already taken place, and note, we couldn’t find all the events around the US. Many events took place around the country.

 

CHICAGO

March 25 & 28:  CHEVALIER, a Greek film by Athina Rachel Tsangari, part of the 19th annual European Union Film Festival. Gene Siskel Center, 164 N. State, Chicago. 8:15 pm. Get a discount on tickets in person at the box office with code WINDYCITYGREEK. Tickets.  Trailer

March 26: Independence Day Party with Thanos Petrelis, live in concert. Rosemont Convention Center, 5555 N. River Rd., Rosemont, IL.  Doors open 8:30 pm; show starts at 9:30 pm. Tickets

April 14: Raising of the Hellenic Flag in Daley Plaza – 12:00 pm

April 17: Hellenic Heritage Parade in Greektown – 2:00 pm

 

BALTIMORE

April 3: Greek Independence Day Parade on Eastern Avenue in Greektown. 2:00 pm

 

BOSTON

April 1: Greek Independence Celebration at the Massachusetts State House

April 2: Greek Independence Day Gala at Newton Marriott – 6:00 pm

April 26: Greek Independence Day Parade – Boylston Street to Charles Street– 1:00 pm

 

CLEVELAND

March 26: Pan-Icarian Brotherhood Independence Dance. Annunciation Party Center, West 14th Street & Fairfield. 8:30 pm

DETROIT

April 17: Greek Independence Day Parade on Monroe Street in Greektown. 3:00 pm

 

NEW YORK

March 25: Greek Independence Day Greek Night. Central Next Door, 2030 Steinway Street, Astoria. 9:00 pm

April 10: Greek Independence Day Parade. From 64th street to 79th Street – 1:45 pm

 

PHILADELPHIA/GREATER DELAWARE VALLEY

April 17: Greek Independence Day Parade 2:00 pm.

 

SAN FRANCISCO

March 26: Greek Independence Day Celebration/Greek Night at Carbon Lounge, 383 Bay Street. 9:30 pm.

March 29: Greek Chamber Music Project label celebrates the release of The Moon is Red: A Tribute to Manos Hadjidakis. Center For New Music, 55 Taylor Street, San Francisco. 7:00-9:30 pm.

April 2: LIVE GREEK Concert – Salampasis-Dionisiou-Konitopoulou-Baxevanis

Broken Spoke WEstern Saloon, 370 Saratoga Avenue, San Jose. 8:30 pm

 

SANTA BARBARA

March 26: Greek Independence Day Celebration and Glendi. Santa Barbara Greek Orthodox Event Center. 6:00 pm

 

WASHINGTON DC

April 13: Congressional Salute to Greek Independence Day. Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2123. 6-8 pm

 

TORONTO Community events

 

There’s your quick course on Greek Independence Day. Now you’re ready! Let’s celebrate!

ΖΗΤΩ Η ΕΛΛΑΔΑ ΜΑΣ!

 


Read more:

The History of Greece: The Greek Revolution of 1821

History of Athens: Greek War of Independence

Wikipedia: Greek War of Independence

Maria A. Karamitsos

Maria A. Karamitsos

Founder & Editor at WindyCity Greek
For 10 years, Maria served as the Associate Editor and Senior Writer for The Greek Star newspaper. Her work has been published in GreekCircle magazine, The National Herald, GreekReporter, HarlotsSauce Radio, Women.Who.Write, and more. Maria has contributed to three books: Greektown Chicago: Its History, Its Recipes; The Chicago Area Ethnic Handbook; and the inaugural Voices of Hellenism Literary Journal.
Maria A. Karamitsos

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