T0day, Skiathos celebrated Greece’s Independence Day.
A very brief history lesson :
Being one of the holiest days in the Greek calendar, Orthodox Christians draw inspiration from the Annunciation of the Theotokos. It was on this day that Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would bear a child.
In an act of defiance, rising up against the 400 years of occupation (since the fall of Constantinople in 1453) and oppression by the Ottoman Turks and their failure to assimilate and convert the Greeks by depriving them of their heritage, their religion and their freedom which resulted in many years of unsuccessful uprisings, it was Bishop Germanos of Patras who seized the opportunity of this holy day in 1821, to raise the banner of revolution. It marked the beginning of the Greek War of Independence which ensued for eight years until the fighting ended in 1829, when the Sultan Mahmud II, facing Soviet troops at the gates of Constantinople, accepted Greek independence with the Treaty of Andrianople.
At the time, the ‘Filiki Etaeria’ (or The Secret Society of Friends) and the ‘Ieros Lohos’ (or Sacred Band ) had been supported by intellectuals world wide including prominent figures of the day, such as Lord Byron of England and, in America, Daniel Webster and Dr. Samuel Gridly Howe ,who did much to raise awareness abroad. Today the cries of Zito H Ellas and Eleftheria H Thanatos can still be heard. Greek ‘Klephts’ (or freedom fighters) sacrificed much for their country and along with the many heroes of the revolution, such Kolokotronis, Nikitara, Karaiskakis, Bouboulina, and Mpotsaris, they are remembered today with national pride.
And a little-known fact:
In the dark years of the Ottoman occupation, during which thousands were killed and tortured for attending church or teaching their children culture, history and language, the Greek Orthodox Church was instrumental in helping the Greeks to retain their identity by the institution of Crypha Scholia (Hidden Schools). There is a small engraved marble plaque commemorating Skiathos’ own ‘Hidden School’, situated in a secluded, wooded valley on the north side of Skiathos island – one of the most enchanting walks one can follow on the island – along a narrow pathway that leads to the equally magical hidden church of ‘Krifi Ioannis’.
Today, March 25th, all that it means to be ‘Greek’ is proudly celebrated throughout the land with churches filled to capacity for early morning services, followed by the wonderful spectacle of well-attended local parades, folk dancing, music, and colourful national costumes worn with pride. This morning, all along the Skiathos ‘Paralia’, in (thankfully!) brilliant sunshine, under hundreds of blue and white Greek flags flying high and flapping in the gentle sea breeze, the whole town came together in eager anticipation of the celebrations:
Overseen by local dignitaries including the Mayor, Mr Nikos Plomaritis and members of his Municipal Council, Senior officials from the Port, Coast Guard & Police authorities and the Papas from local churches:
following tradition, the local school children filed past the assembled, flag-waving crowds
marching smartly in time to the rousing beat and music of Skiathos’ Brass band, led by Mr Alvianitis:
Marching in order of age, behind the senior high school students followed, at the last, a group of the youngest children
and finally, bringing up the rear (and clearly excited at the prospect of being old enough to join in next year) some tiny tots were already practising:
With the parade over, pleasantries exchanged, much hand-shaking and greetings of ‘Xronia Polla!” with familiar faces, and photo-taking of families and old friends. Here’s a couple one of a very happy mayor and one of yours truly (with Mr Sakis Zloutadis, the Minister for Culture):
Spectacle over, I eventually climbed my way up through the narrow, cobbled streets of the old town, to the Plaka area, where some wonderful Greek friends had kindly invited me to share their family’s traditional National Day lunch. With meat and eggs still off the menu (till the end of Lent) we sat down to a table generously laden with:
fried fish, fried and steamed courgettes, laced with virgin olive oil and lemon, potato salad, home-made bread and, the most important dish of all on this very important day, lashings of thick, creamy and very pungent garlic sauce.
“Don’t worry!” I was told “Today EVERYONE smells of garlic, so no one will notice if you do!”
It was all absolutely delicious! After much laughter and story-telling over coffee and a traditional egg-less cake made from walnuts and cinnamon, it was with a heavy heart (and an even heavier stomach!) late in the afternoon, that I finally tore myself away and headed for home. A gale-force wind started up suddenly, from nowhere and just as quickly, ominous clouds darkened the skies and opened up pouring a deluge of driving rain down on the island. Thank fully I escaped into my house just (but only just!) in the nick of time.
‘Perfect timing’ I thought, smiling to myself…… God must have certainly been smiling down on Greece this morning…..