Traveling in Greece during March? Independence Day on March 25th will fill the streets with parades and celebrations, both secular and sacred. In Athens and other major cities such as Thessaloniki, military parades for Independence Day will vie with Feast of the Annunciation church celebrations and anti-war demonstrations, keeping the streets both busy and sometimes blocked.
Travelers who don't throw themselves into the spirit of the day may be frustrated with delays, unexpected site closures, and a general lack of attentiveness by the Greeks, who are busy with the dual holiday.
History of Greek Independence Day
In 1821, Greeks vigorously rose up against the oppressive Ottoman Empire which had occupied Greece for nearly four hundred years, embarking on the ultimately successful war of independence. Bishop Germanos of Patras boldly raised the Greek flag at the monastery of Agia Lavras, inciting the Peloponnese to rise against the oppressors. While the exact date probably was not March 25th, it did occur in late March and it was gradually associated with the religious feast of the Annunciation which occurs on the same date.
The Feast of the Annunciation
On this day in the Greek Orthodox calendar, the archangel Gabriel appeared to the maiden Mary and announced the news: she was pregnant with the divine child. Bishop Germanos chose this day to deliver a different but not unrelated message: a new spirit was about to be born in Greece.
The churches celebrate the Festival of the Annunciation with pomp, ceremony, and joy. The spectacle is especially vivid on the islands of Tinos and Idra (Hydra). Hydra, a maritime merchant power with a swift, well-maintained fleet, was a determined and effective supporter of the War for Independence, doubling the celebration there. You can also expect colorful religious ceremonies wherever the local monastery or church is named "Evangelisimos" or "Evangelistria", such as Panagia Evangelistria on Tinos.
Greek Independence Day Abroad
Greek Independence Day is also celebrated by many of the Greeks of the diaspora, and large parades are becoming more common in United States cities where Greeks have made their homes, including Boston and New York City. Each year, the U.S. President marks Greek Independence Day with a proclamation reminding citizens of the contributions of Greece to democracy, and of the ongoing contributions of expatriate Greeks in their new communities throughout the world.