The event is March 25, Greek Independence Day. The actual story of how Greek wrested a nation out of an independence movement against the Turks is too complicated to recount here. It involves British, French, Russian, Austrian and Egyptian intervention, troops on the ground and warships in the straits, deals and negotiations that bounce around European courts. The British seem to be the deciding factor, as well as the latter stages of the Ottoman Empire that was in the process of slowly collapsing.
At any rate, the first move to independence was hampered by Greek infighting since there was no national consciousness or consensus in the early 1800s. To get local kingdoms to cooperate and share agendas that affected other parts of the islands was perhaps an impossible ideal. The federation that was cobbled together seems to have had enough commonality (and perhaps expediency as well, given all the hostile forces surrounding Greece) to persist and to have been reified over generations of schoolbooks.
But I wonder if they teach about the massacres of Turkish and Greek civilian populations that followed Greek declarations of independence? Do they claim credit for themselves or give thanks to foreign powers that intervened militarily and diplomatically on their behalf?
The school kids of Hora town would be the ones to ask, but they are too busy marching in a parade that assembles first at the big church I visited last Sunday morning for the mass of the ascension. Each class/level has a flag bearer wearing traditional costume, flanked by several more kids in dress of the 18th and 19th centuries. Everyone else wears blue and white, shirts and trousers or skirts.
What animates the event are the drum corps. I heard drums this morning at 3:30 a.m., moving around the town till 5:00. (!) Fortunately, Hotel Grotta is on the outskirts of town so the closest the drums got was the big church 10 minutes away. They pound out a strange halting rhythm that stops just as it builds momentum, then pushes forward to an end that loops back to the beginning. Mostly boys, a few girls hang in with snare drums and determination. The groups are not well-rehearsed, which adds a frenetic randomness to the soundtrack of the whole affair.
First there is blessing in the Metropolitan Church, led by a high-ranking priest. There was plenty of church-state symbiosis at various points, but that is the way it is done in other countries as well. The blessing is not a mass and not very solemn in how people interact with the ritual, so there’s lots of coming and going, with most kids staying outside and the adults inside.
From the church, the drums fire up again and everyone moves a short distance to a war-independence memorial ceremony. Here, local dignitaries place olive wreaths at the base of a marble monument on the edge of town closest to the Apollo temple.
Then the main parade starts, heading down the port road and over to a big parking lot. I don’t follow it but stay in one spot and snap photos of the kids (and a few adults) filing past. Sky is blue, wind nippy and persistent, and everyone participates to the extent of their interest.