On Sunday, April 17th, Greek-Americans from all over Philadelphia and as far as Atlantic City and Lancaster came together to celebrate Greek Independence Day on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The parade is held every year with numerous people in attendance, but this year, the Presidential Guard from Greece, the Evzones, came to parade in the United States for the first time in twenty-two years, bringing the attendance to about 15,000 to 20,000 people. The parade stretched throughout ten blocks where organizations, churches, floats, dance groups, and a motorcycle club all paraded together to display Greek culture to spectators.
Greece’s Independence Day, which is celebrated on March 25th, is an important and historical holiday for Greeks everywhere. On March 25th, 1821, Greece gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire after being under its rule for almost five-hundred years.
Unlike past parades, the 2016 Greek Independence Day in Philadelphia included the Presidential Guard from Greece, the Evzones. When on duty, the Evzones are not allowed to talk, make eye contact, or move, and must obey and adhere to strict rules. When they are not on duty, the majority of the guards are very friendly people who love Greece, its people, and its history. One of the Evzones said [translated from Greek], “I’m very excited because we came here to be a part of you guys.” On Friday, April 15th, the Greek flag was raised at City Hall with support from not only the Greek community, but other Philadelphians as well. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, was one of the many attendees who spoke about Greece’s independence.
When asked how he felt about the flag being raised, another Evzone answered [translated from Greek], “It’s a great feeling because the Greek flag hasn’t been raised at City Hall in Philadelphia before, so I was very happy that we could experience this with you guys. And it’s definitely a time that we will remember for many years.” When asked if they could summarize their time here in America, the guards all said that they were proud. All the Greeks that could witness such amazing events take place will agree that the flag being raised, having the Presidential Guard from Greece come to the United States, and being able to celebrate Greece’s independence, made for a great and historic weekend.
The amount of blue and white, the colors of the Greek flag, displayed on the sunny day was remarkable. Greek pride spread throughout the City of Brotherly Love by many groups of people that came out to support the event. With flags of Greece, the United States, Cyprus, Pontos, and many more countries, the cheers and excitement of Greeks were heard all over the parkway.
It doesn’t matter if someone is one-hundred percent Greek or one percent Greek. He or she is Greek regardless. Even people that were not Greek came to support the national holiday. John Gaba (277), who was part of the parade, remarked, “The Greek community as a whole is very nice. Everyone is friendly. Everyone is in touch with their roots, which is cool, and they embrace where they are from.”
Mr. Benzanis, a Central history teacher, explained, “Greek Independence Day is very important. Greece has a very difficult past with Turkey because we were under their control for four-hundred to five-hundred years, and we were the first place to gain our independence from Turkey. Greece was mainly an agricultural country at that time, so no one thought they could defeat Turkey. It’s a very strong point of pride.”
Pride and honor were shown more than anything else at the parade. Overall, the festivity was filled with a sea of blue and white, and everyone left content and fulfilled after a long day of hard work.
Despina Evangelopoulos (277)