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Politics

Celebrating Greek Independence Day, March…April…Whatever

“Greek Independence Day is on March 25, so why do the Greeks hold their parades on different days?” I heard that complaint lodged over and over again, ever since I was a kid. And I’m sure it was lodged long before I was even born, too.

It is a valid point, to be sure, because to some extent, a celebration loses something when there is historical distortion. On the other hand, there aren’t nearly as many Greeks in New York City (or in the country, for that matter) as there are Irish, and so while St. Patrick’s Day Parades never have trouble getting the Irish to turn out by the thousands – as well as those who want to be Irish for a day – no matter what day of the week March 17 falls on, it is harder to get enough Greeks to fill the streets on a weekday.

Those two points continue to shape the debate, which remains unresolved. Ironically, though, the purists who insist on having the parade on March 25 each year might be interested to know that Greek Independence really did not begin on that day!

There is the long-held notion that when Bishop Germanos hoisted the Greek flag at the Agia Lavra Monastery near Kalavryta and proclaimed: “Eleftheria i Thanatos – Freedom or Death,” that was actually the start of the Greek Independence movement, and the 1821 date was March 21, not March 25th. Others place the date as March 23.

Moreover, because the city of Kalamata was liberated on March 23, 1821, it logically follows that the skirmishes started considerably earlier on in March of that year. At least the year is not in dispute and, most likely, not the month, either.

WHY MARCH 25?

Why, then, is the date that everyone acknowledges – actual parades and celebrations being on different day notwithstanding – the twenty-fifth of March? One widely-supported reason is that it coincides with the Feast of the Annunciation – the day on which, the Greek Orthodox Faith describes, was when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and told her that she would give birth to Christ, the Son of God. An alternative explanation is that Bishop Gerasimos precisely chose March 25 as Independence Day precisely because it coincided with Annunciation.

In either case – whether or not Gerasimos actually shouted “Freedom or Death!” on March 25 or a date close to that one is reminiscent of Christ’s birth – which a consensus of Biblical scholars determine did not in fact occur on December 25, was celebrated on that day specifically so that Pagans – who celebrated Saturnalia on that day – would instead celebrate Christmas.

Ultimately, and particularly because the exact date in question does not appear to be certain, it is more about the essence of independence than the precise origin of it.

Some might say: “what next, are you going to tell me that the Declaration of Independence was not signed on the fourth of July?” Well yes, precisely. But that’s a story for another time.

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