Figure 1.--The Greek boys wear Apokries costumes in a photograph taken about 1970. Cowboy and Greek costumes are popular. Note that the boy in the Greek costume also has a cowboy six-shooter like the boy in the cowboy outfit. In recent years, Zorro has become another popular costume.
Many countries share the holidays, especially religious holidays. But even shared holidays are sometimes celebrated on different days. Even Christmas and new years are celebrated on different days in some countries. Countries also have some holidays that are only celebrated in individual countries, although imigrant communities in the United States and other countries may also celebrate. Important Greek holidays are Independence Day (March 25) and Ochi Day ("No Day," remembering the Greek Resistance of World War II, (October 28). Apokries is another popular holiday, especially for Greek children.
Many important Greek holliday are religious festivals. Nearly all Greeks (over 95 percent) are nominal members of the Greek Orthodox church--part of the Eastern Orthodox church. Chrisendom was through the first millenium one single, united religion. There were many differences, but they were reconciled uin a series of church councils and beliefs judged to be heretical suppressed--often with considerable brutality. The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in 1054 split along theological, political, and cultural differences. These differences have never since been reconciled, although there have been efforts to do so. The Roman Catholic Church in that regard has been very active in recent years. The Church continues to be an important institution in Greece, but Greeks are not churchgoers--especially the younger generation. With the exceptionj of special Easter celebrations, church are today mostly attended principally by eldely women and young children. While church attendance is very low in Greece, religious celebrations continue to be very important. A Greek reader tells us, "I participated when I was a little boy, along with my grandmother, but now I go only in 'Anastasi'. My father is not a church goer either." The Greeks regard Easter, the Assumption of The Virgin (August 15), Christmas to be the most important religious feasts, of which Easter is by far the one of greatest importance.
Independence from the Ottoman Turks is celebrated March 25. In America it is celebrated as Greek Day and is the occassion for a big p[arade down 5th Avenue. A HBC reader reports, "The only personal memory of school uniform I have is at parade days". Schools and the military do a parade twice a year. At Independence Day (25 march) and Ochi Day ("No Day," remembering the Greek resistance of World War II, 28 October). Students of 5th and 6th grade of elementary schools and selected students of high schools do a parade on those two days. All students must wear a uniform which is determined by the board of the school. The uniform items must be always blue and white. A HBC reader reports, "I had to parade as a 5th and 6th grader at October 28. I remember my school's uniform was consisted of short blue shorts, black or blue shoes, white dress ankle socks, a white sweater and the school's badge. I remember that it felt weird having to wear shorts during a chilly October morning." At that time (late 80s) most elementary school had uniforms with shorts. Nowdays its very rare to find a school with a shorts parade uniform even if it is an elementary school.
Apokries is something roughly equivalent to Haloween and Mardi Gras. In America it is usually called Carnival. Apokries (Carnival) is a period of carefree merrymaking and entertainment. Apokries is associated with the cycle of Easter and Lent, which begins on "Clean Monday". The three preceding weeks are considered to be the Carnival period, and are a festive time in Greece. It is considered to be a transitional stage, preparing the faithful for Lent. Carnival is a celebration of pre-Christian idolatrous and pagan customs. These of course are founded in classical Greek and Roman Empire gods and custims and are not related to the Christain Easter celebration which include prayer and fasting following Clean Monday. Apokries is a joyous celebration combining physical pleasures with the veneration of dead ancestoprs. The fancy dress costumes accirding to folk legend brings a year of good fortune to each village or town. Masked figures conduct strange dances. Their pacing and leaping are meant to recreate the passing of spirits through the upper world. The noise which accompanies Apokries, especially by the masked figures, is meant to wakeup the spirits of vegetation. Children usually wear costumes during apokries. The American cowboy and the Greek kilt costumes are among the most popular. The Mexican Zorro costume is also popular, presumably because of the American (Disney) television serialzation. The Ninja costume is also popular. Up until 60s Greece, in villages cowboys, zorro and ninja sounded... exotic. And then they would let their imagination free... and created some reeeeeally weird pagan costumes for the adults and sometimes boys (not girls certainly not girls or women). They consisted of parts of traditional uniforms and weird looking masks and hats. They were also wearing about a dozen big cowbells arond their waist making noise. This
faded in the 70s.
A HBC reader tells us that Easter is a very important holliday in Greece. While Easter is a Christian celebration, many Greeks continue to adhere to beautiful old symbols, rituals and customs of mostly pagan origins. Many Greek Easter traditions in fact have origins which significantly predate Christianity. originated long before the beginning of the Christian era. The early Church in fact grafted Christian holidays on existing pagan celebrations in a conscious effort to gain acceptance for the rising new Church. As with Christmas which is connected to pre-Christian winter festivals, Easter is connected with pagan rituals that associated with the end of winter and beginning of spring. Thus the Christain celebration of Jesus rising from the dead is celebrated when new life and growth springs from the earth--powerfukl symbolism for the agricultural societies of the day. The origin of the term "Easter" is not fully unferstood. Some believes that it originated with Eostre, an Anglo-Saxon goddess of springtime. Easter is also associated with the Jewish festival of Passover, or Pesach. The "Happy Easter" gretting in Greek is Kaló Páscha. The term "Pascha" in Greek and "Pascua" in Spanish , meaning "Easter", has evolved from the name of the Jewish festival of Passover, as are the names for Easter in other Latin-based foreign languages. Eastern Orthodox Christains regard Easter as the most important religious festival followed by Christmas. "HBC readers will want to know about some customs and what boys do. Well, a lot become altar boys for the holiday." Greek Orthodox Christians do not always celebrate Easter on the same date as the Roman Catholic and Protestant Christains. The reason is the differet calendars that are used.
Summer vacations as in must of Europe have since World War II become a popular ritual. Gfreece like much of Western Europe is now much more urbanized than was the case in the early 20th century. Many city families spend their summer vacations in small rural villages. These are often villages where the parents grewup and the children's grandparents were born and/or still live. Trips to the Agean islands have also become very popular.
Ochi Day ("No Day") celebrated on Ocrober 28 remembers the valiant Greek Resistance against the Germans during World War II. Most Greek cities and townd have parades to honor the Resistance.
St. Nicholas is important in Greece as the patron saint of sailors. According to Greek tradition, his clothes are drenched with brine, his beard drips with seawater, and his face is covered with perspiration because he has been working hard against the waves to reach sinking ships and rescue them from the angry sea. To members of the Eastern Orthodox Church, as are most Greek Christians, Christmas ranks second to Easter in the roster of important holidays. Yet there are a number of unique customs associated with Christmas that are uniquely Greek. On Christmas Eve, village children travel from house to house offering good wishes and singing kalanda, the equivalent of carols. Often the songs are accompanied by small metal triangles and little clay drums. The children are frequently rewarded with sweets and dried fruits. After 40 days of fasting, the Christmas feast is looked forward to with great anticipation by adults and children alike.
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