A few years back I asked a class of students to explain the details surrounding Greek Independence Day. The students went on to tell me about specific heroes and even the religious significance of the day. Most of them discussed how March 25th was a religious holiday and that they go to church on that day. I was surprised to find that children were not aware of the historical significance of that day. The rest of the discussion showed their confusion between OXI Day and Greek Independence Day.
I am writing today not just to point out how a particular group of students were unaware of our history but to emphasize that they are not the only ones. I asked them a few questions like: Why do we call March 25th ‘Dipli Giorti’? Do you know how they celebrate this day in Greece? Why was Kolokotronis imprisoned, etc. and the answer to all of them was, “I don’t know.”
I have asked similar questions to many adults and have received a similar response. Surprisingly, this is something that we see more and more in the new generation of Greek-Americans.
As an educator I wanted to understand the reasons for such a lack of awareness among the younger generation. The main reason I found was in the way this day is celebrated in schools and other organizations. Most of us celebrate it a day or a week in advance. Nevertheless, if we are going to celebrating it earlier or in some cases later, there is a better way to do it.
On March 25th, schools are usually open if the day falls on a weekday. There will either be a play or even speeches given to the students. Chances are most of the students didn’t listen to the speech or understand the significance of the performances.
I think that March 25th should be celebrated like a party or gala. I remember the days when I attended Greek school. We couldn’t wait to march in the parade on 5th Avenue with our friends and yell “Ζήτω η Ελλάδα.” We would stop at the bandstand and dance in the streets. We wouldn’t leave right after, we would wait to see our friends march on by as we yelled out their names. Later on that day our parents would take us to a Greek restaurant for dinner and a chocolate ‘pontikaki’.
Sometimes we all take these events for granted and consider them like any other ordinary day. If we continue to do so, we are not doing justice to future generations. The 200 years of freedom which we fought for after four hundred years of brutal occupation by the Ottoman Turks and the sacrifices of our freedom fighters will become meaningless. It should be the responsibility of the teachers, parents and all of us to teach this new generation of Greek-Americans about the value of freedom.
We must guarantee that our children take an interest, not only in our long and magnificent history but to also feel proud of being Greek. After all, March 25th is not just a holiday but a day to celebrate and remember the known, and the unknown heroes of our country who sacrificed their lives, for the freedom of our motherland. Ζήτω η Ελλάδα!
Dr. Anastasios Koularmanis is Director of the Office of Education Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.