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Hellenic parade celebrates Greek independence in San Francisco March 30, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Diaspora, Special Features.
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Some celebrants were dressed like heroic Greek freedom fighters from the early 19th century. Others donned the colorful, festive costumes of traditional dancers.

The Hellenic Cultural Parade in downtown San Francisco on Saturday culminated a weeklong celebration of all things Greek, from music to politics, history, philosophy, religion and food.

Led by a contingent of police officers on horseback, the parade drew sparse crowds along Market Street on its way to City Hall, but the revelers’ effusive spirit and cultural icons shone through.

“This is our way to remember and celebrate,” said George Katsoulis, an Oakland resident who carried the Olympic torch in the ancient Greek city of Argos in 2004. “To commemorate Greek independence day in any way is an honor. The music, the dance, the remembrance of our ancestors.” Katsoulis strode up Market Street, holding two symbols of peace, an olive branch in one hand and an unlit Olympic torch from 2004 in the other. Christine Diacou Hay of San Francisco revealed her Greek roots by shouting “Hronia pola!” – or long life, to the torch bearer.

This year’s celebration marked the 187th anniversary of Greek independence, dating to when rebels began their fight for independence after centuries of occupation by the Ottoman Empire.

“It was the beginning in Europe of nations waking up to self-determination, freedom, choice and democracy,” said Metropolitan Gerasimos, the head of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco. Gerasimos, who leads 175,000 Greek Orthodox faithful in seven Western states, wore a traditional black robe similar to those worn by Greek clergy when the church was suppressed by the Ottomans.

Jim Vorrises, Vice President of the United Hellenic Federation of California, said: “Every year we celebrate the same event, remembering the fight of our forefathers to secure independence and freedom of the Greek nation. Those people had faith in God, faith in themselves and destiny.”

This was the 10th annual celebration of its kind in San Francisco, though others said the local tradition of marking Greek independence goes back for decades.

Among the highlights of this year’s celebration was a float bearing a replica of the Acropolis, or Sacred rock, of Athens, with four Greek muses in white gowns, smiling and waving to the crowd. Another float featured a mockup of a wooden boat, variously described as the ship sailed by Ulysses. 

Near the steps of City Hall, hundreds of spectators were serenaded by a vibrant Greek solo. Dancers in ceremonial costumes from the Island of Crete performed before a reviewing stand filled with dignitaries including Xenia Stefanidou, the Consul General of Greece in San Francisco.

“They feel proud of their ethnicity,” said journalist Savas Deligiorgis, who presents a Greek American program on KVTO-AM 1400, a San Francisco radio station, “because they always fight for freedom, democracy and human rights.” Ted Giouzelis of San Leandro, who was born in Sparta and raised in Athens, praised people of Greek ancestry as “hospitable, hardworking and lovers of knowledge.” 

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