If you’re in Greece on 28th October, you’ll soon find yourself caught up in the Greek national holiday known as Oxi Day (also spelt Ohi Day or Ochi Day). In Greek, the word oxi means “no”.
Why Is Ohi Day Celebrated as a Greek National Holiday ?
The Oxi Day public holiday commemorates when Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas declined an Italian ultimatum issued by Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini during World War II.
The ultimatum in 1940 came via the Italian Ambassador Emanuele Grazzi, and it was for Metaxas to allow free passage of the Italian army through Greece.
The country was neutral then, and the Italian dictator expected Greece to submit easily. However, the Greek people were ready to fight for their independence and to protect their Greek culture.
Famously, Metaxas told the Italian Ambassador of Athens, Emanuele Grazzi, “Then it is war”. (Actually, he said, “Alors, c’est la guerre” since the official diplomatic language was French.)
Anyway, that was turned into “oxi” and shouted from the streets.
Celebrating the Start of the War
Some people think it’s a bit odd that Greeks celebrate the October 28th holiday since the Italian troops began their invasion later that same day. Normally it’s the end of a war that’s commemorated, not the start.
But saying no was seen as a heroic act that somewhat unified the country. Previously Metaxas wasn’t very popular since he rans things as a dictator. But his decision gained him some respect and became a massively important part of modern Greek history.
So it’s both a celebration and something of a sombre day too.
How is Oxi Day Celebrated in Greece?
Well, the Greek flag is even more prominent on the streets. And there are a few different things going on to celebrate the day.
Laying of Wreaths
The day’s activities normally start with town officials placing wreaths on the local war memorials to commemorate the fallen heroes.
Going to Church
Greek Orthodox churches also open for special services to mark the national anniversary.
After that, a big part of the day is parades, marching bands and processions in national costume, including school children parading from selected schools.
There are two major military parades that take place in Greece each year. In Thessaloniki, the military parade is on Oxi Day. In Athens, it happens earlier in the year for Greek Independence Day on 25th March.
Normally the best student from each school is chosen as a flag bearer to lead the Oxi Day student parades. My friend Katerina who generously fact-checked this post for me, told me that her sister had this honour.
She collected the flag the night before, and it was seen as a real privilege to have it in the home. As the best student, she was responsible for taking the flag to Mass on Oxi Day morning, to the ceremony at the monument, and finally onto the parade.
Greek flags bunting out in Andros for the holiday
Military and student parades happen in various cities and islands across Greece
Free Access to Cultural Sites
On Oxi day, there’s free entry to all government-owned historical or archaeological sites, monuments and museums.
If you’re in Athens, that means you can enjoy free access to sites like the Acropolis Museum and the National Archaeological Museum.
Ancient Mycenae and Ancient Epidaurus are included, too, if you’re nearer Corinth.
Plus, the various islands‘ museums and sites, like Ancient Delphi are free if you’re further afield.
But turn up early because it goes without saying these places are popular as people take advantage of a free entrance day.
Are Shops Open?
Generally, shops are closed on Oxi Day.
Cafes and restaurants stay open, and it’s a busy day for them. After the church services and parades, everyone goes out for food with family and friends and enjoys popular songs and music.
Live music at a taverna in Batsi, Andros on Oxi Day
Is Public Transport Running?
Normally this runs to a Sunday schedule, so double-check for any important journeys you need to take. In addition, you can expect some delays due to road closures in the streets around the parades.
Oxi Day 2023
The first two Octobers I was in Greece were on the islands, and I was out of the country last year. So I’m interested in seeing what Oxi Day in Athens is like in 2023.
I understand that it’ll follow the usual routine of starting around 10- 11am. As a rule, the route runs past the Hellenic Parliament and Syntagma Square, so they will be good places to get a spot.
If you’re staying elsewhere and want to join in, ask locally for timings. It will be pretty similar wherever you are.
More Greek Culture
If you want to read more about Greek culture, find out about Greek name days that get celebrated more than birthdays.
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