28th of October or, as known in Greece, OXI day.
OXI day commemorates the anniversary when former Greek military general and Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas said ‘NO’ to Benito Mussolini. The story goes that in 1940 Benito Mussolini gave an ultimatum to Ioannis Metaxas to allow Italian forces to occupy strategic locations in Greece or otherwise be enemies. The motivation behind Mussolini’s ultimatum was to impress his fellow ally Adolf Hitler, by securing what was thought would be an easy victory and expanding his fascist regime. However, it was clear where Greece stood in WWII when they delivered the infamous ‘no’ to the Italians. An hour and a half later of Metaxas’ answer, the Italians stationed in Albania, then an Italian protectorate attacked the Greek border. That was the start of the Greco-Italian war and the Greek nation was officially at war!
One of the more well known salutes to the heroism of the Greek people was given by the US President Franklin D Roosevelt, who summed it all up beautifully…
“On the 28th of October 1940 Greece was given a deadline of three hours to decide on war or peace but even if a three day or three week or three year were given, the response would have been the same. The Greeks taught dignity throughout the centuries. When the entire world had lost all hope, the Greek people dared to question the invincibility of the German monster raising against it the proud spirit of freedom.”
Franklin D Roosevelt, US President 1933 – 1945
On this day, the Greeks stand and honour the men and women who stood against the Italians and the fascists in WWII. No one believed that Greece would survive the attack. As a small country, Greece faithfully and courageously met her obligations to her allies with heroism and self-sacrifice. Many lives were lost and Greece suffered greatly, much more that other countries that were on the victorious Allied side, as one puts it. This is why world leaders today recognise the contribution of Greece and their bravery. Churchill once said ”Today we shall say that the Greeks fight like heroes, but from now on we shall say that heroes fight like the Greeks.” Today, we honour those who fell by a ceremony filled with poetry, songs and stories from that dark time. The schoolchildren put on their local uniform and march at 11 am to honour and show their respect to our ancestors. The day is filled with celebrations, food and drink, as well as traditional Greek dancing. When the children parade (or march if you will), people wave their Greek flags and applaud them. The military marches as well and there is even a marching band. Coming from Mykonos, I had to wear the traditional Mykonian dress, which can be seen (sort of) in the picture. The top 6 students would go first and one of them would carry the Greek flag. Then following would be the rest of the school. Depending on your age, you wear different uniforms; the last-year-students (age 18) wore the traditional Mykonian dress (or other local dress- depending where you are), whereas anyone else below the age of 18 will wear a blue-white outfit. Before the parade starts, we have a little service at our local church and then the local officials, including the Mayor, pay their respects to the dead by placing a leaf-laurel at a memorial stone, which commemorates the dead. The parade lasts about 10-15 minutes and then we dance our traditional Greek dances. When I was young, I never appreciated these traditions, but now that I understand the history and the significance, I can say that I am proud to be part Greek and happy that I was involved in these traditions as well as others while I was growing up. It is something different and as far as I know, no other country does this every year on one specific day. For many, OXI day is more than an anniversary commemorated with parades of schoolchildren, military grandstanding and flag waving. It is a day to remember Hellenic values, passion and ‘filotimo’, and the courageous words and deeds of ancestors who fought for this land with flesh and blood. This year marks the 74th anniversary of OXI day.
More reading on OXI day: http://www.ultimatehistoryproject.com/oxi-day.html pictures of me and my friends were taken in 2009 and we are wearing the traditional Mykonian ‘dress’ — K.J.Koukas