The 25th of March celebrates Greece regaining its freedom after centuries of occupation.
As it falls in the middle of Lent, though, which is observed in the Greek Orthodox Church, the special holiday foods that can be used have to be filtered through religious constraints. No meat is allowed — but then the Greek diet isn’t as heavily meat-centred, anyway, as northern diets are. Fish is allowed, since Independence Day falls on Annuciation Day, which is a Feast Day in the Church calendar. Other foods allowed are fruit, cheese, nuts, alcohol, beans, olives, and all vegetables.
Though there are no Lent constraints on alcohol, it’s still hard to know what to recommend to non-Greeks to drink for today. Those who merrily downed gallons of green beer just a week ago at St Patrick’s Day would no doubt blanch at the thought of a single shot glass of ouzo or retsina.
Turkey used to be known as the Ottoman Empire. Ottamon Rule over Greece had begun in 1453, when the Muslims conquered and occupied Constantinople, slaughtering everyone sheltering in Saint Sophia Cathedral and then converting the great church into a mosque. After that, Greeks resisted centuries of pressure to convert to Islam, even though many were tortured for attending church. Any Muslim who converted to Christianity would be put to death. The Greek Orthodox Church ran secret, underground schools for children so that they would retain their cultural and religious identity.
The revolution for Independence started in 1821 at the monastery of Agia Lavras (aka Hagia Lavra) in Kalavryta. Bishop Germanos of Patras raised the Greek flag (the same one in use today, 2007), and blessed the rebels. This was sometime in late March — some believe the 28th — but the day got merged in with the big Annunciation celebrations on the 25th. This first March 1821 uprising was defeated, but independence was finally achieved in 1829 with the Treaty of Andrianople, and formally recognized by Turkey in the Treaty of Constantinople, signed July 1832.
It was, however, only the southern part of Greece — the peninsula — that achieved independence. Constantinople hadn’t been liberated, but Britain didn’t want things to go that far, as they needed Turkey to still be a viable, stable force to help keep Russian imperial ambitions in check. (British Realpolitik suspicions of Greece ultimately held true, as the new country went through 21 elections and 70 different governments between 1864 and 1910, and King George I was ultimately assasinated by a Greek in 1913.)
A Bavarian Prince was installed in Greece as King King Otto I, though a constitution wasn’t agreed until 1843. In 1862, the unpopular Otto was driven from the country. He was replaced by a Danish prince who became King George I of Greece.
Greek Independence Day is usually proclaimed each year in America by the President of the time. In 1940, 10,000 people attended the first Independence Day parade in Greek; one has been held every year since.
Today is also the Feast of the Annunciation in the Orthodox Church calendar.
Literature & Lore
“Standing there an hour alone I dreamt that Greece might once be free.” — Byron.