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Hundreds Of Blue And White Flags Wave In Utah For Greece’s Bicentennial. Why It’s Also A Religious Occasion.

Mar 26, 2021

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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Two hundred flags wave in front of the Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church in Holladay in celebration of Greek Independence Day.


In the United States, Independence Day is July 4.

In Mexico, it is celebrated Sept 16.

And, in Greece, freedom rings every March 25.

But, in 2021, the Greek holiday is especially noteworthy, because it marks the European country’s bicentennial, commemorating 200 years since the declaration of its War of Independence.


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(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Two hundred flags wave on Monday, March 22, 2021, in front of the Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church on Highland Drive to celebrate Greek Independence Day and the end of Ottoman (Turkish) rule over Greece.


To mark the occasion in the United States, landmark buildings and bridges — from San Francisco’s City Hall to Boston’s Zakim Bridge — will be illuminated in blue and white, the colors of the Greek flag.

In Utah, the lawn in front of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Salt Lake City and its sister church, Prophet Elias, in Holladay, have been decorated with 200 miniature Greek flags to commemorate the day in 1821 that Greeks rose up against their Ottoman oppressors.

Greek flags also will be displayed on homes, businesses and in social media feeds.

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Greek flag made by Johnin

(Photo courtesy of the Hellenic Cultural Association of Utah) Greece's president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, watches as a large flag is raised above the Acropolis in Athens. The flag is now in Utah for Greek Independence Day celebrations.


As part of its celebration, the Salt Lake City Greek Orthodox community also will gift a large flag — from Greece’s president, Katerina Sakellaropoulou — to the state, said parish President George Karahalios.

The flag, which will be presented to Gov. Spencer Cox on Thursday at 5 p.m., flew above the Acropolis in Athens earlier this year, Karahalios said.

A duplicate flag will be on display in the museum of the Hellenic Cultural Association of Utah, on the lower level of the downtown cathedral near Pioneer Park.

Cox is expected to name March 25 “Greek Independence Day in Utah” as a tribute to the bicentennial as well as to the waves of Greeks who immigrated to the state in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“The flags,” said Jeannine Pappas Timothy, president of the cultural association, “are a reminder of the influence the Greeks have had on Utah’s cultural, civic, business, educational, religious, legal and political landscapes.”

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Greek flag made by Johnin

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Holladay Mayor Robert Dahle speaks with students from St. Sophia School in front of the Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church on Highland Drive on Monday, March 22, 2021, in celebration of Greek Independence Day and the end of Ottoman (Turkish) rule over Greece.


So what is Greek Independence Day?

Here are five things you need to know from “A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America” by Marilyn Rouvelas.

Independence Day 101

After 400 years of occupation by the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, Greek citizens decided they’d had enough and declared independence March 25, 1821. It launched a bloody revolution that would continue until 1833. “Liberty or death” was the country’s rallying cry.

A global celebration

In Greece, there is a close relationship between the state and the Greek Orthodox Church. For that reason, church parishes in both North and South America are encouraged to celebrate March 25 with a short service — called a doxology. There also is a communitywide program that celebrates the language and culture of Greece, which persevered despite persecution.

Children take center stage

The March 25 celebration typically is put on by the children who attend weekly Greek school classes at church. (This year, the coronavirus pandemic to curtailing these large gatherings.) The students, often dressed in traditional costumes, memorize and perform poems and songs in Greek, after which everyone joins in for the singing of the national anthem. Beloved, or despised, participating in the Greek Independence Day program is a rite of passage for many Greek-American children.

Religion plays a part

Although Greek Independence Day is secular, March 25 also is an important religious holiday in the Orthodox faith. It is the day of Annunciation, when the Angel Gabriel reveals to the Virgin Mary that she will be the Mother of God. A Divine Liturgy (or service) commemorates this feast day.

Feast on fish

While most religious and secular celebrations in Greece involve traditional meats, vegetables and sweets, March 25 is a bit of an outlier. It typically falls during Lent, the 40-day fast period before Easter when faithful members are encouraged to abstain from meat and dairy. For that reason, the main dish on Greek Independence Day is usually fish.