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The Greek National Holiday of October 28th

In every country some days of the year are considered as “national anniversaries” because they remind everybody of important historical events. For most of the people, as well as for public services, these days are also “public holidays”.

Greece has two national holidays which are linked with major historical events and celebrated all over the country: March 25 and October 28. The October 28th celebration is also called the “Ochi day” (ochi meaning ‘no’), reminding that in 1940 prime minister Ioannis Metaxas refused the Italian forces to enter Greece. As a result, Greece entered World War II and the Greek-Italian war of 1940-1941 began.

The Omilo team usually works on October 28th, because nearly every year an intensive course of Greek language and culture takes place in Athens in this period of the year. Omilo students have many times witnessed the parade from the school balcony in Maroussi (North Athens) and were eager to learn more about the celebration. So let’s see what happened on October 28, 1940 and how Greeks celebrate this national anniversary.

What happened on October 28, 1940?
At dawn of October 28, 1940, the Italian ambassador, Emanuele Grazzi, presented the Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas the ultimatum of Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini. This required the Italian army to cross the border with Albania and to occupy Greece. Metaxas replied in French “Alors, c’est la guerre” [‘So this is war’]. In a few hours the Italian army entered northeastern Greece. Greek soldiers successfully fought the Italian-Albanian forces and pushed them back into Albania. Because of that, Hitler’s German army had to step in and it invaded Greece in April 1941. The occupation lasted until October 1944.

How do Greeks celebrate their national anniversary?
Some weeks prior to October 28th Greeks start decorating streets and balconies with Greek flags. Greek TV broadcasts movies about the war of 1940. On the state radio you will hear heroic songs of the time (you can find one of the most popular songs below).

In schools, pupils recite poems, sing songs or play scenes from the Greek-Italian war wearing costumes of the time. The school teachers usually talk about Greeks’ heroism at the war.

On the anniversary day, schoolchildren parade on the main street of their village or neighborhood, that is they march synchronously along with military music. Pupils’ parents and many people watch the parade, wave small flags and applaud. The best student of each school holds the Greek flag in the parade and is called simeofóros ‘the flag-bearer’.

Before the parade they lay a wreath of laurel onto the monument or square of the municipality or village they live in. After the parade, families and friends get together and many times eat out in a tavern.

Vocabulary about October 28th
• mathitikí parélasi ‘student parade’ = pupils synchronously march in front of officials in rows
• stratiotikí parélasi ‘military parade’ = soldiers with weapons march in rows and war vehicles/ airplanes pass in front of officials.
• epétios ‘anniversary’ = the one-day celebration each year after a major event
• simeofóros ‘the flag-bearer’ = the pupil marching by carrying the Greek flag
• katáthesi stefánon ‘laying of wreaths’ = when they lay a wreath of laurel with a ribbon onto a monument to commemorate dead people
• ethnikí yiortí / ethnikós eortasmós =  national holiday/celebration
• prothipourgós =  prime minister
• diktátoras = dictator
• pagkósmios pólemos = world war

Below you can find an example of a heroic song of the time
Title: Children Children of Hellas
Listen to the song on YouTube, and read the lyrics as well as the translation.

Τραγούδι: «Παιδιά της Ελλάδος παιδιά»

Στίχοι: Μίμης Τραϊφόρος Lyrics: Mimis Traiforos
Μουσική: Μιχάλης Σουγιούλ Music: Mihalis Souyioul
Πρώτη εκτέλεση: Σοφία Βέμπο First version: Sofia Vebo
Μέσ’ στους δρόμους τριγυρνάνε Mothers are wandering in the streets
οι μανάδες και κοιτάνε Seeking
ν’ αντικρίσουνε, To face
τα παιδιά τους π’ ορκιστήκαν Their children who took an oath
στο σταθμό όταν χωριστήκαν When they parted at the station
να νικήσουνε. To win at war
Μα για `κείνους που `χουν φύγει But let’s be glad
και η δόξα τους τυλίγει, For those who have left us
ας χαιρόμαστε, And have been wrapped in glory
και ποτέ καμιά ας μη κλάψει, And may none of us ever cry
κάθε πόνο της ας κάψει, May bury her sorrow
κι ας ευχόμαστε: And let’s all wish:
Παιδιά, της Ελλάδος παιδιά, Children, children of Hellas
που σκληρά πολεμάτε πάνω στα βουνά, Who are fighting a tough war on the mountains
παιδιά στη γλυκιά Παναγιά Children, towards Virgin Mary
προσευχόμαστε όλες να `ρθετε ξανά. We do pray for you to come back again
Λέω σ’ όσες αγαπούνε I say to those who love
και για κάποιον ξενυχτούνε And stay all night awake
και στενάζουνε, And sigh
πως η πίκρα κι η τρεμούλα that bitterness and trembling
σε μια τίμια Ελληνοπούλα, Do not fit
δεν ταιριάζουνε. A proper Hellene woman.
Ελληνίδες του Ζαλόγγου[1] Hellene women of Zalongo,
και της πόλης και του λόγγου Of the cities and the forests
και Πλακιώτισσες[2], And women of Plaka,
όσο κι αν πικρά πονούμε However bitterly we suffer
υπερήφανα ας πούμε Let’s cry out proudly
σαν Σουλιώτισσες. Like women of Souli would do:
Με της νίκης τα κλαδιά, Children, we are expecting you
σας προσμένουμε παιδιά Carrying palm branches of victory.

[1] Zalongo, a village in Epirus, is known for the Dance of Zalongo: in 1803 women from Souli and their children committed mass suicide by throwing themselves off a steep cliff in order to avoid enslavement by the Ottomans.

[2] Plaka is an old historical neighborhood of Athens, on the slopes of Acropolis.