NEW YORK – The sky was crystal blue from sunrise on Greek parade day in New York, but it was feared the chill in the air would dampen the festivities. Not only did the spirit of the children marching and the thrill of cheering the Evzones and the enthusiasm of the big crowd guarantee a great day, the wind also paused to honor the heroes of 1821 and it was a fairly warm day after all.
The marching began right on time at 1:45 PM, commenced – as tradition would have it of a parade first held in New York in 1938 and which premiered on Fifth Avenue in 1951 – by the New York Police Departments Mounted Color Guard and ceremonial band, the St. Paul’s Society of Eastern Orthodox officers, the NYC Corrections Dept. Hellenic Society, the Fire Department of NY Hellenic Society, and the US Marine Corps.
New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio was made an honorary grand marshal, joining Michael E. Seremetis and Gordon Chang, and marching with the 2016 grand marshals leading the parade, New Democracy President Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Congressman John Sarbanes, industrialist and Philanthropist Dr. Spiros Spireas, and Alek Skarlatos, the hero who helped foil a terrorist attack in France.
The first parade elements seen by the crowd on both sides of Fifth Avenue included The Greek School of Plato Marching Band, the smarty-dressed Greek flag-waving visiting students of Hellenic College of Thessaloniki, and soon Miss Greek Independence Maria Exarchakis and her entourage followed on their float.
The children of St. Basil’s Academy and the Cathedral School elicited loud cheers, but as usual the Evzones prompted the strongest applause, although there was plenty of noise at the sight of the top students of the Metropolitan Area Greek schools who carried the big flag that once flew on the Acropolis. Marching behind the banner of the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, the parade organizers, was its president Petros Galatoulas and its officers. Vasilios Gournelos, who is also 2nd Vice President of the Federation, and George Kalergios served as parade chairmen, assisted by co-chairs, George Pantelides, Mamie Stathatos, and Dr. Michael Kokolis.
After the Evzones arrayed themselves in front of the reviewing stand, Anastasia Zanni and Yianni Papastefanou sang the American and Greek national anthems, respectively.
De Blasio was joined at the podium by Archbishop Demetrios and Galatoulas, who congratulated and thanked all who made the parade such a great success. De Blasio said it was a pleasure to join in celebrating everything Greek and “that Greeks have enriched New York City in so many ways and continue to do so…today everyone wants to be Greek.”
Parishes from as far away as Rochester, NY participated, and the Metropolis of New Jersey, led by Metropolitan Evangelos, again had an impressive presence.
Special groups marching included the Greek American Folklore Society, the Hellenic Times Scholarship fund established by John and Margo Catsimatidis and Nick Katsoris, and The C. Voulkoudis Guardian Angel Foundation. The professional groups included the Hellenic Medical Society of NY and the Hellenic Lawyers Association.
The commercial presence included floats for My Big Fat Greek Wedding featuring an appearance by its young star Eleni Kampouris who played Nia Vardalos’ daughter Paris. Atlantic Bank, led by its president Nancy Papaioannou, who is also HACC president, was out in strength with a float and marchers, as was Investors Bank. The Pan Gregorian Enterprises representing the community’s restaurateurs also had a float.
Many high schools and college Greek clubs sent contingents to Fifth Avenue, and the Intercollegiate Hellenic Society of America also marched.
Numerous Cypriot groups demonstrated that the fight for justice for Cyprus goes on and the Armenian Knights of St. Vartan demonstrated solidarity with their Greek friends on their annual float calling for the recognition of the Armenian holocaust. Numerous Pontian groups also called attention to the Pontian Genocide.
There were a number of floats and groups representing AHEPA whose parade appearances were led by Supreme President John Galanis.
Philip Christopher was parade chairman emeritus along with John Catsimatidis, who arranges the channel 9 TV coverage anchored by Ernie Anastos, Nicole Petalides, and Nick Gregory.
The special announcers did their usual professional yet entertaining job. Sofia Fasos Korahais, Nomiki Kastanas, Anthoula Katismatides, and Vasilios Petratos introduced all the groups in Greek and English.
Katsimatides passionately loves all things Greek but she is especially proud of her roots in Nisyros, and she was very excited when she told the story of the liberation of the Dodecanese islands and read off the names of all twelve islands. “You forgot Nisyros,” said Korahais, a professor at NYU. Asked for clarification later Korahais told TNH with a smile, “yeah she forgot to mention Nisyros seven times.”