Are you traveling in Greece or Cyprus during October? If so, on Oct. 28, expect to encounter parades and other celebrations commemorating Ochi Day, which is the anniversary of General Ioannis Metaxas' flat denial to the Italians' request for free passage to invade Greece.
History and Origins
In October 1940, Italy, backed by Adolf Hitler, wanted to occupy Greece. Metaxas simply responded, "Ochi!" That means "no" in Greek. It was a "no" that brought Greece into the war on the allied side. For a time, Greece was Britain's only ally against Hitler.
Greece not only refused to give Benito Mussolini's forces free passage, but it also seized the offensive and drove them back through most of Albania.
Some historians credit the Greeks' fierce resistance to the later German paratrooper landings during the Battle of Crete with convincing Hitler that such attacks cost too many German lives. The from-the-air invasion of Crete was the last attempt by the Nazis to use this technique, and the extra resources required to subdue Greece drained and distracted the Third Reich from its efforts on other fronts.
Had Metaxas not said "no," World War II might have lasted considerably longer. One theory suggests that had Greece agreed to surrender without resistance, Hitler would have been able to invade Russia in the spring, rather than making his disastrous attempt in winter. Western nations, always happy to credit ancient Greece with the development of democracy, may owe modern Greece an equal but usually unrecognized debt for helping to preserve democracy against its enemies during World War II.
Was Metaxa really that succinct? Probably not, but that's the way the story has been passed down. He also probably responded in French, not Greek.
Travel During the Holiday
On Ochi Day, all major cities offer a military parade and many Greek Orthodox churches hold special services. Coastal towns may have naval parades or other celebrations that occur on the waterfront.
Thessaloniki offers a triple celebration, paying reverence to the patron saint of the city Saint Demetrios, celebrating its freedom from Turkey, and commemorating the entry of Greece into World War II.
In recent years, as some anti-American and anti-war protests have heated up the always-warm Greek political landscape. Ochi Day may be celebrated with more than usual vigor and with some additional political overtones. However vocal or visual any protests may be, they are unlikely to be anything more than merely inconvenient.
Expect traffic delays, especially near parade routes, and some streets may be blocked for different events and celebrations.
Go ahead and enjoy the parades. Most archaeological sites will be closed, along with most businesses and services. In years when Ochi Day falls on a Sunday, additional places will be closed.
Alternate spellings: Ochi Day is also spelled Ohi Day or Oxi Day.