Greek pride shines despite cloudy skies

Parade: Undaunted by the wet weather, spectators and participants celebrate an independence day.

April 04, 2005|By Anica Butler | Anica Butler,SUN STAFF

The gray skies yesterday were no match for the abundantly colorful Greek costumes, and the frigid wind and spotty drizzle failed to dampen the enthusiasm of participants and spectators at the 10th annual Greek Independence Day parade, held yesterday in Greektown.

"Two years ago it rained, but I still marched," said 17-year-old Despina Cornias, a junior at Polytechnic Institute who has participated in the parade since it began. The crowds weren't as large as some in the past, she said, wearing a red-skirted costume from Crete as part of the St. Nicholas Hellenic Golden Coins dance group. Still, she said, she saw many familiar faces.

"It's nice because the whole community does it," Cornias said. "It's important for our culture, our family, who are proud to be Greek."

But the parade yesterday attracted Greek and non-Greek spectators. Many people cradled cups of coffee, while others warmed themselves by nibbling on steaming souvlaki. Others watched the festivities from inside storefronts along Eastern Avenue.

Parade's roots

The annual parade celebrates Greek Independence Day, March 25, 1821, when Greece declared its independence from the Turks.

A festival of food, music and marching, it's an opportunity for the Greek community to come together, and a chance for others to witness Greek pride and to learn about Greek culture and the Greek fight for freedom, organizers said.

"We were an oppressed people. A lot of people don't know what ethnic Greeks went through," said George Demetrides, who founded the Baltimore celebration. "When you get freedom, it's a precious thing, and to celebrate that freedom is a wonderful thing."

The first parade was small, he said, with Police Department horses, a few Greek organizations and one high school band.

But the event has continued to grow each year, he said. This year, 93 groups from the Mid-Atlantic region participated, and in recent years, as many as 10,000 spectators have attended.

"It's an established parade now," Demetrides said. "It will never stop growing."

The lineup included groups as diverse as the Alexander the Great Macedonia Association of Maryland, the Baltimore City Bagpipe Band and the Greek Motorcycle Club.

Cultural education

The food, costumes and music might bring people out, but Demetrides said he'd like to think that people take something away with them as well.

"I think they get a sensibility of togetherness," he said. "I think they get a feeling of being united."

Catherine Walker of Greektown brought her toddler daughter to the parade last year, and negotiating a good view took a lot of work. But yesterday, Walker and 4-year-old Tamara Hicks had no problem getting a good view from the front.

Walker said she brings her daughter to expose her to people different from herself.

"I want to show her different cultures and try different food," Walker said, waving a plastic Greek flag as the parade began.

The two hadn't eaten yet, and Walker said she hadn't yet decided what goodies they'd try this year.

"I can't really pronounce any of it," she said. "But if it looks appetizing, we'll try it."

Heritage

George Hondrogiannis of Fallston came to Maryland from Greece in 1979, but this was his family's first year at the parade. He brought his children, Nicole, 6, and Christopher, 3, who have never been to Greece - although the family plans a visit next summer.

"Nicole has been complaining that she wants to learn Greek," Hondrogiannis said. "We decided the kids were old enough. We're slowly introducing them to the culture."

Nicole and Christopher, both bundled up in winter coats, hats and scarves, bounced around with anticipation before the parade began.

Hondrogiannis said there was no question that he had to come this year, no matter the weather.

"Once we decided to come, we would have come even if it was raining," he said.

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