One of our main national celebrations in Greece is March 25, which commemorates the start of the 1821 Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire, a revolt whose motto was the cry “Freedom or death.”
Following the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Greece remained under Turkish occupation for four centuries. After a number of unsuccessful attempts at revolt, the War of Independence started in 1821. Despite many reversals, this would lead to the establishment of a Greek sovereign state with the London Protocol of 1830, signed by England, France and Russia – the allies who intervened to help win the war. The Greek struggle had elicited strong sympathy in Europe, and many leading intellectuals had promoted the Greek cause, including the English poet Lord Byron. At the naval Battle of Navarino, the combined British, French, and Russian forces destroyed the Ottoman-Egyptian fleet.
In 1838 King Otto, the first king of the new state, declared the beginning of the revolution was to be commemorated each year on March 25th with a national holiday; celebrations were held in the presence of the heroes of the revolution, who were eulogized by the crowds. Fires were lit on the Acropolis, a service was held in the church of Saint Irene and a flaming cross placed on mount Lycabettus.
The day was chosen to coincide with the Greek Orthodox Church’s celebration of the Annunciation to the Theotokos (Mother of God), when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and told her that she would bear the son of God.
On this day, towns and villages throughout Greece hold a school flag parade, during which schoolchildren march in traditional Greek costume and carry Greek flags. There is also an armed forces parade in Athens.
In folk tradition, the day also marks the beginning of spring and the return of the swallows. And of course, there is a special dish to go with all this: μπακαλιάρος σκορδαλιά (bakaliaros skordalia), cod fried in a beer batter and accompanied by a garlic sauce, made with potato, olive oil and sometimes walnuts. During Lent, fish is only allowed twice, on March 25th and on Palm Sunday. On the islands people cook fresh cod, but elsewhere it is usually the custom to use salt cod, which was introduced in Greece in the 15th century. You will find a recipe here, and I can vouch it is delicious.