Oxi Day in Greece: What We Celebrate And Why

ohi day parae in Thessaloniki village

One of the most important days of the year, for Greeks all around the world.

The 28th of October is a National Holiday in Greece, that is often referred to simply as “OXI” Day. This is one of the most important Bank Holidays in Greece and all Greeks celebrate it proudly. During this day, the schools, the stores, and public services are closed and the whole country is in a festive mood. In this post, we will explore why and how we celebrate this special day.

What History Says

We are going back to 1940 and World War II-era. The Italians sent an ultimatum to the Prime Minister of Greece, Ioannis Metaxas, to capitulate or they will invade the country. Ioannis Metaxas responded with the word “Oxi”, declining to give up. Oxi in Greek means no. That was the day when Greece officially entered the War and coordinated attacks from the Italian Axis powers began. 

The Greek army fought bravely against the enemy in the mountains of Pindos. Many people lost their lives in these battles but they managed to keep the enemy away from Greek territory. The Italian troops found it hard to conquer the Greek territory as the Greek army continued to bravely push back.

The expansive policy of Adolf Hitler into the Balkans aggravated the Greek position on the war. Despite the brave efforts, Germans crossed the borders of Greece in April 1941. The German invasion and occupation that followed, was a horrible period of Greek history. Many people died of famine, the inflation destroyed the country’s economy and the entire Greek Jewish community was taken away to concentration camps. 

Despite the humiliating everyday life of Greeks, the resistance efforts never dwindled. Finally, in autumn 1944, after more than 4 years of long battles, the Germans withdrew from Greece and the country was free again.

How We Celebrate Nowadays

In honour of the soldiers, who fought for the freedom of this country, we celebrate “OXI” day every 28th of October. All around the globe, Greeks celebrate and honour the deceased, as they would have if they were in the homeland. A week before Oxi day, people decorate their homes and cities by hanging Greek flags from their balconies, in the streets and the squares. 

The first part of the celebration is going to church. As a religious society, Greece has connected all the major highlights of its history with religion and church. During this day the Christian Orthodox church celebrates the Holy Veil of the Virgin Mary. Originally, the day dedicated to this celebration was the 1st of October. But they decided to celebrate it the same day as OXI day because, according to religion, Virgin Mary helped the soldiers fight the enemy and liberate the country. 

The Student March

After the end of the church service, the student parade follows. The parade is a part of children’s education as they learn to respect and love their country. Students from each school march in front of parents, spectators and local authorities as a sign of honour and gratitude to the deceased. All the children wear a uniform decided by the school authorities. Usually, the girls wear a blue skirt, a white shirt, and white tights, and the boys wear blue pants and a white shirt. The dress code is not irrelevant, but it symbolizes the blue and white of the Greek flag.

ohi day parae in Thessaloniki village
© Erilda Goga

Before the marching begins, the student and local authorities pay their respects to the deceased. In every village or city, no matter how big or small it might be, there is a monument called “Hiroo” ( in Greek Ηρώο) which is dedicated to the heroes that lost their lives protecting the country. The local authorities lay a wreath at this memorial. The wreath is made of laurel leaves, which are a symbol of victory and honour from ancient Greece. 

ohi day Greece children in parade in Thessaloniki, Greece
© Erilda Goga
school parade in Thessaloniki village Ohi Day
© Erilda Goga

The children stand in rows from tallest to shortest, and begin their march. The first to march are the students with the best score in the school. The student with the highest academic achievements holds the Greek flag, which is a great honour for a student. Except for the students, older people participate in the parade from various cultural centers. They do not wear the same uniform as the students, but they wear traditional Greek costumes from their region.

The Military March In Thessaloniki

The climax of the Oxi day celebrations is the military march in Thessaloniki. Apart from the student parades that are held across the city, the main parade in Thessaloniki, has no students. Here, all the military forces of the country march in front of the local authorities. Important people from the political and religious scenes of the country are present, including the President of Greece.

The first group to march is ex-soldiers with disabilities. It is a powerful moment, especially for younger people that never lived through the war.  Coming up next are associations of the people that fought for the freedom of the Macedonia region or as they are called in Greek “Makedonomachoi”. As well as, associations of people from Pontos, a Greek minority that were massacred during the Greek genocide by the Ottomans. All the associations march with traditional costumes. If you enjoy learning more about the different cultures, then pay close attention to the different costumes that are represented according to the geographical place they come from. 

Next to march are military staff of the country, starting with the “Evzones” soldiers. Evzones are the soldiers that protect the Parliament in Athens. Their costume is not the typical army costume, but the traditional costume of “tsoliades”. This is a great honour for every soldier, as it is a sign of bravery. If you are passing by Athens, during your trip, don’t forget to stop by the Syntagma (Parliament) square to witness the changing of the guard, where the Evzones are stationed. 

The most impressive part of the march and the one little kids often look forward to the most is the airforce group. The helicopters and aeroplanes perform a breathtaking airshow and most people will attend the parade just for this. The talented pilots show their skills and the crowd is captivated by their talent. The sound may be blaring, but the show of the F16-aircrafts flying low is so impressive that is worth experiencing. 

The celebration ends when the President of Greece lays a wreath for the deceased. 

The OXI day is one of the most important days for Greece, as we honour the sacrifice of the people who fought in the war so we can be free now. Watching the parade, especially the military parade in Thessaloniki, is an opportunity to be a part of this spirit.

  • Let us know in the comments below, if visiting Greece during OXI day is already on your wishlist or it is now after reading this post. 

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