The 25th of March is the independence day of the Greeks from the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire defeated the Byzantine Empire in 1453 and Greece fell under Ottoman rule. The traditional story is that the Metropolitan Germanos III of Patras blessed a Greek flag in the Monastery of Agia Lavra on the 25 of March 1821 and ushered in the uprising against the Ottoman empire.
Greeks revolted many times over the years against Ottoman rule but the revolt began in ernest in 1821. Uprisings started in the northern parts of Greece and moved into the Peloponnese. A crucial meeting was held in the city that is now called, Aegion. Aegion is the city near the two villages that my parents come from. The Greeks fought under various leaders one of which was Theodoros Kolokotronis who became commander-in-chief of the Greek forces in the Peloponnese.
The makeshift Greek navy fought against the Ottoman navy in the Aegean Sea achieving successes. Lord Byron travelled to Greece to fight on behalf of Greek independence and Greeks revere him as a national hero. He spent his own money to outfit the Greek navy and protested against Lord Elgin’s removal of the Parthenon marbles from the Acropolis. He died of a fever In Missolonghi while preparing to attack the Turkish fortress at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth.
I remember Greek Independence Day as a day of speeches, poems, Greek food, wearing Greek costumes, Greek flags and the singing of the Greek National anthem. As a child, I learned about the ‘hidden school’ where Greek children were educated in secret in order to retain their heritage under Ottoman rule. There is a song about the moon guiding the children to and from the school where they would learn Greek. I can still see the hall festooned with Greek flags. My friends and I dressed in our traditional costumes. Each child and sometimes parents, wore the traditional costumes of the area where one’s family came from. I was taught to appreciate being Greek in an open and democratic society and to never forget the land of my parents and my heritage.