Philadelphia, PA – Greek Independence Day was commemorated early in the city of Brotherly-love. For some time now, Philly has come to observe the historic day earlier than other diaspora cities. In a historic town of many firsts, who better than Philadelphia?
On Sunday, Independence day was announced in the heart of the historic Greek community (8th and Locust) and was led with a service by Metropolitan Evangelos of New Jersey. Dignitaries and parishioners attended the Doxology service at St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Olde city. Flags of Cyprus, Greece and the United States were presented during the liturgy and many in the community attended the service in traditional folk attire, in honor of their ancestral home.
Led by the Hellenic Philharmonic Society band of New York, the parade kicked off across town, near Eakins Oval along the famed Benjamin Franklin Parkway. An assortment of brass instruments and drums announced the start with the playing of traditional marching songs from Greece. It was a welcome treat for the community, who in years past, experienced only the sounds of American marching bands. These songs were a blend of both Greek and American.
A coalition of organizations and churches led by the Federation of Hellenic American Societies of Philadelphia and the Greater Delaware Valley marched from Eakins Oval to the museum circle, a distance of approximately six blocks. As they arrived at the grandstand, cheers from the crowd filled the air. From the podium, in both Greek and English, President Stathi Karandonis of the Federation and his counterpart, Judge Harry Karapalides announced each organization.
The paraders were accompanied by banners, floats, flags and a lot of pride. For the next two hours, the Hellenic Philharmonic band played from the stands as each group passed. At approximately halfway into the parade, a moment of silence was observed. Everything came to a stop as a solitary unmanned float approached with photographs of Danielle Kousoulis. The blue and white themed barge shadowed the crowd that immediately rose to their feet. Danielle had been lost at the historic 9-11 attack in New York in 2001. A member of the St. Thomas Greek Orthodox church in Cherry Hill, she was again remembered this day. Tears were shed as a solo trumpet sounded taps. Danielle’s parents, Zoe and George Kousoulis, honorary Grand Marshals looked on from the grandstand as the moment was observed and the parade continued.
With each group that passed, friendly smiles and waves greeted them. The smell of souvlakia cooking on the corner and Greek being spoken in the crowd were welcome additions, that added to the overall atmosphere.
Each year, the parade concludes with a series of ethnic folk dances performed on the parkway. A local dance troupe is selected to perform a regional dance. This year, that honor was bestowed upon the Pontian “Akritai” of Upper Darby, America’s oldest Black Sea Greek organization. Pontian dancing dates back some 2500 years and its music is a passionate mesh of drum (known as a daouli) and fiddle (lyra) sounds unlike that of popular Greek folk music.
It was a spectacular and captivating end to this unique parade that brought on cheers. The Akritai were the final group to march and immediately transitioned into a dance performance. An incredible seen emerged and ignited the crowd, as this archaic dancing was performed. Philadelphia, the Greek named city rose in the distance on one side, while the Philadelphia Art Museum echoes the Parthenon on the other side. With arms joined together, Hellenes danced and completed the Odyssey. The climactic moment brought on a great sense of pride. Philadelphia, a Greek city in so many ways.