index.html  Interpretations of national celebrations
in Greek primary schools


Golia Paraskevi


 Professor in education policy, University of Western Macedonia




National celebrations are, above all, an incentive
for acquiring education and self-awareness

          G. Babiniotis, 2004.






Many aspects of a national anniversary are associated with general social functions, which interpret data, but in parallel highlight issues requiring ethnographic and phenomenological approaches (McQuarrie & David, 1992). The issue of the relationship between history, society and education is discussed as a problem of relationships between education and historically determined ideology. Given that ideologies allow for semiotic formulations, the convergence of Marxist and semiotic analyses affords a methodological basis which enables the study of the relationship between the socio-historical conditions and the ceremonial aspects of national celebrations (Lagopoulos, 1986). The present paper aims at emphasizing the character of school celebrations, as ensued from the study of official national celebration agendas, which are prescribed and sent in circulars (channel) by  the Greek Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of the Interior (sender) to the Local Authorities (receiver) and finally to Greek primary schools (receiver). The investigation of the circulars aims at identifying aspects of national celebrations and associating them with national memory in the context of pupils’ national and education policy. 





In the 20th century many national states endeavored to encourage patriotism, by means invested in the monopoly of public education in order to enable the development of group identities, attitudes and behaviors. In formal education, historical awareness has been associated with celebrating national anniversaries in various ways, since national celebrations are called to communicate the idea of a common past and common identity to students. The ‘vision’ conveyed in national celebrations in the present author's country, namely, the image of Greece brought forth on a national, regional and international level, reflects a set of signifier and signified related to the concept of ‘homeland’.


Every educational system is virtually a particular education of signs, that is, a study of social semiotic practices and activities (Paschalidis, 1996). Ceremonial practices are assigned a more general function, under conditions of ‘compulsion’ and their intensity is reinforced by their long-term perspective. The norms which are dictated and reproduced in time, the procedures readjusted, as well as the gestures and anniversary speeches are a pledge of prosperity for the state and a sense of security for the attendees (Bouvier, 2001). The focus on the mediating role of national school celebrations, related to the construction of social reality appears to directly affect schooling, as demonstrated in the moralizing aspect of celebrations and in the reproduction of national myths and stereotypes by which they are ruled. The pupils are subjected to the ceremonial atmosphere of celebrations, which are usually held in compliance with the circulars issued by education or state authorities to be communicated to ‘all competent authoritiesemphasizing that celebrations have to be held ‘with ceremony majesty and glory’; various events are also recommended ‘as a token of gratitudeto ancestors (circular, 1959; 1960). The official type of celebrations and the participation of all pupils, the policies of memory and oblivion (Ferro, 1999), have been the material with which the past is constructed and reconstructed (Fragoudaki & Dragona, 1997; Lekkas, 1989 &1994; Mosse, 1976).



Aim, sampling and methodology


The present research aims at investigating and recording the signifiers involved in celebrations and also at identifying the ensuing “syntagmas” to maintain national memory and unity. The research sample is comprised of 140 state documents concerning the official agenda for national celebrations, such as the celebration of the national anniversary on the 25th of March and the 28th of October, in a period from 1937 to 2006. The agendas at issue have been dispatched in the form of circulars by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Education (sender) to the Local Authorities (sender and receiver) and subsequently through the school advisors or the relevant Administration Offices (sender and receiver) to Greek primary schools (receiver).


The circulars under research were analyzed in terms of semiotics[1] (Lagopoulos, 1986; Boklund – Lagopoulou, 1983), on the grounds that national celebrations are associated with general social functions and also because circulars as social and ideological ‘texts’ are used for maintaining and reproducing ideological superstructures  (McQuarrie & David, 1992). The semiotic analysis employed for the research sample enables identifying the relation of the celebration agenda structure to the educational system itself, by means of investigating the manner in which the ideological system is reproduced.



Semiotic Analysis


National celebrations can be treated as a set of signs and therefore organized in “syntagmatic and paradigmatic axes” (Saussure, 1979; Setatos, 1971; Liapis, 1994). The first step involves analyzing the structure agenda into signifiers as functionsevents. Next, a semiotic table is produced with the functions – events in columns (Jakobson, 1968; Barthes, 1964) and the descriptions of the functions (F) in rows.  The specific approach enables the production of a syntagmatic axis (Chandlers, 1995)[2] with the functions – events, in the form they are held in villages or towns/cities on the anniversary day.


Syntagmatic axis


F1 – bunting (lasting three days)

F2 – illuminating public services and public places

F3 – decorating shop windows with photographs of national heroes and slogans

F4 – delivering speeches to citizens (encomium)

F5 – paying honours to the statues of national heroes and laying wreaths

F6 – ringing of bells

F7 – battle and marching songs – local bands

F8 – hoist of the flag

F9 – church-going

F10 – attending the Te Deum

F11 – memorial service around the statues of national heroes

F12 observing a minute’s silence in memory of those who died fighting for their country and convictions

F13 –parade

F14 – reception

F15 – troop of soldiers striking the flag

F16 – plays

F17 – pupils dancing folklore songs

F18 – torchlight procession


Paradigmatic axis


The next part of the investigation involves the relationship between functions – events. The events were grouped in articulations[3], which are symbolized as a1, a 2, a 3…. and include the functions – events that specify the paradigm:

{F1 + F2 + F3} a 1 + {F7+ F14} a 2 + {F6+ F9 + F10 + F11} a 3 +{F8+ F15} a 4 +{F5 +F12} a 5 +{F17 + F18} a 6 +{F4 +F13} a 7


The formula for the paradigmatic structure codified in articulations, is shown below:


Spatial symbolic representations (a1)


Organizing social relations between subjects (a2)


Connotations of the religiosity of the dominant group (a3)


Respect for the national emblem (a4)


Tribute to particular national personalities (a5)


Revival of tradition (a6)


Disseminating and perpetuating national accounts (a7)



Analysis of articulations


(a1) Spatial symbolic representations {F1 + F2 + F3}

‘Space’ signification involves social and cultural value practices closely associated with a particular society. However, apart from serving the functional needs it renders, spatial signification creates the framework in which the ‘action’[4] plan and the respective ‘frames of the soul’ are articulated (Greimas, 1970). The participation of pupils appears to be the medium which enables the instrumentality of ‘space’, which is experienced, perceived and acquires multiple identities through the pupils’ social and cultural identity filters.


(a2) Organizing social relations {F7+ F13+ F14}

The participation of pupils in the anniversary parade signifies the military training of citizens, who, in subjection to the sound of national marching songs and controlled movements (marching and saluting the authorities), are manipulated, in the social context, towards holding a political stand:  serving in the forces. In this context, social relations, perceived as sets of functions, are the focal points of life symbolic enactment. The mode, in which they become perceptible in a given society, reveals its typological features, and can be exploited with a view to providing a semiotic formulation of a society’s value system. In detail, the investigation of the participation of pupils, teachers, parents, official bodies and, in general terms, of those involved in maintaining national memory, enables highlighting the dynamic nature of the conventions of communication. Their analysis is conducive to revealing the fictional role of ideology, which is the pivot of institution changes, and can be used as a theoretical tool for developing social practices   (Williams, 1958; 1980; 1989; 1994) and creating meanings, in relation, principally, to ‘national accounts’ as well as to national and political education.


(a3) Connotations of the religiosity of the dominant group {F6+ F9 + F10 + F11}

During national anniversaries, there is an emphasis on the function of faith psychology, which is transferred from God to one’s own homeland and lends ideology to historical facts so as to overemphasize the ‘power of collective illusions’ (Ziakas, 1993). Thus, it is imperative that national order determined by the sense of honor, race purity, and national grouping, and also by antagonism, hostility and defense, be maintained with a view to identifying national otherness with the dominant linguistic group, race and religion[5].


(a4) Respect for national emblems {F8+ F15}

Emblems are the appropriate medium that depicts abstract ideas; however, any changes in their content are contingent on their range and abstraction. All emblems are originally conventional, not natural, and their social function originates from their cultural popularity and prominence; as a result, their form is preserved and used in new, widely accepted concepts. Identifying the medium and form of an emblem is a methodological error, as emblems do not convey a single meaning for all peoples or cultures. The meaning ascribed to the role of national emblems is suggestive of the emphasis given to national, religious and patriotic aspects, which remain powerful.


(a5) Tribute to national personalities {F5 +F12}

On national anniversaries, it is required that a national self as a hero as well as the image of a national ‘other’ as a foe, an enemy of the nation, be constructed. A hero represents the ideological role of society; he is a model and paradigmatic reflection of individuality and, to a great extent, a hero’s judgment words the judgment of ideological discourse (Dimitriou, 1986). Historical personalities are appreciated on the basis of their contribution to historical processes; they are distinguished for the cause they have fought for and the historical duty they have accomplished.  

The decoration of public places with pictures of heroes and the tribute to heroic personalities aim at creating positive model examples, by initiating mechanisms for imitation and socializing identification. Thus, specific forms of presentation are adopted, which aim at homogenizing attitudes, behaviours and awareness. However, the use of discriminating references to particular national personalities in anniversary speeches is not consistent with the new trends of historiography and Peace education. In addition, laying wreaths not in battle fields, but on war monuments, implies that history is substantiated, impressed in space. Hence, it is suggested that monuments are parts of the historical environment, and through monuments historical sequence is recorded and bequeathed, as they encapsulate and perpetuate functions and memories, which are preserved ‘in eternity’ (Zivas, 1997). 


(a6)Revival of tradition {F17 + F18}

Animations, dancing, plays, recitals and patriotic songs are used, on the one hand, in order to emotionally and artistically reproduce historical action aiming at emotive attitudes and behaviours and, and on the other hand, they are perceived as ceremonial investment in events of social life. In detail, strictly following the official agenda of national celebrations implies complying with communication systems, according to which revival aims at replicating the established lifestyles. In addition, the implementation of such systems is implicit and is pertinent to perpetuating tradition, since conveying traditional ways is part of the celebration agenda itself.


(a7) Disseminating and perpetuating national accounts {F4}

Anniversary speeches are the manifestation of the values and principles of the past as a nostalgia object, to which the dominant linguistic and religious groups conform. The conformist and ideological[6] mechanism of the national anniversary speech accompanied and endorsed by inaccuracies, personality cult and hero worship expressions, exultation about the national traits of the Greek people, race[7], Christianism, exhortations and aspirations, constructs a standardized set of signs with code and warlike content, and functions as a symbol (Barry, 1997). Writing and delivering speeches involves various institutions as a compromise product, since ‘it generates emotional and moral involvement, including aspects of poetry and theatre’ (Souliotis, 1995). Historic discourse, structured on the basis of historical typology, is presented as narcissist self-assertion of national history and, in school environments, initiates manifestations of national and ideological typology, which are incongruous with historical and intercultural education data (Gardner, 1993; Liu, et al. 1997; Avdela, 1998; Vamvakidou, 1999 & 2002).





Celebration agendas emphasize constructs of historical and political practices (Bouvier, 2001). Their rhetoric lies on the structured succession of symbolic discourse and actions[8] performed by specific groups of people in a specific space arrangement, emphasizing in a latent fashion the close relationship of material and symbolic signifiers (Foucault, 1987; Barthes, 1981). In this context, official celebration agendas are representational or portraying models, a comprehensive substitute of reality (Boklund – Lagopoulou, 1986), as they involve an ideology of legendary glamour involving mutual respect, consent and social integration (Bouvier, 2001).    


Even nowadays, national anniversaries are perceived and analyzed as ‘tacit’ scenes, which attempt to reconstruct the meaning of events (Dimitriou, 1986) since they involve symbolic contents which are conducive to disseminating and perpetuating social models. The codes of school national celebrations converge in the cohesion and homogeneity of national groups and signify the manner in which nations identify themselves or discriminate from others (Golia, 2006). Thus, an image of a national ‘self’ is produced, which is as consistent and rigorous as the image of the ‘others’. In any case, for every nation, the revival of the past in the manner it is conveyed to the nation itself or the ‘other’ nations defies the endorsement of historical knowledge and is considerably influential on international relations (Avdela, 1998).


Nowadays, national anniversaries have triggered a new set of controversies: it is essential that objectives be redefined and approaches be rediscovered; in other words, fresh ways to celebrate should be discovered, which would be more attractive and appealing to contemporary pupils that are familiar with technology and the plurality of ‘otherness’ (Babiniotis, 2004), and would be developed both in the context of cultural procedures in pursuit of new lasting principles, new ways of thinking (Karaletsou & Papageorgiou,1996) and new forms of national and political education, and also in the context of universal peace. Harvey (1984) advocates that the ephemeral nature of values, lifestyles, stable relations, the adherence to objects, buildings, places, people and conventional manners to live and act result in the collapse of consent and implies profound changes in human psychology.   





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[1]       Semiotics is a discipline that studies ideology and culture in sociological terms, in contradistinction with a positivist and neutralizing formulation which advocates that it is a discipline that studies meaning. Structuralism has attempted to associate semiotics with history beyond historical subjects.

[2]        A paradigm is a set of associated signifiers or signified which are all members of some defining category, but in which each is significantly different. A syntagm is an orderly combination of interacting signifiers which forms a meaningful whole within a text - sometimes, following Saussure, called a 'chain'. Such combinations are made within a framework of syntactic rules and conventions (both explicit and inexplicit). 

[3]       Articulation, a term used by semioticians to refer to the structure of code originates from Martinet’s structuralist linguistics. The semiotic usage of the term involves the differential structural units related to each other. Following the model of verbal language, an articulated code has a 'vocabulary' of basic units together with syntactical rules which can be used to generate larger meaningful combinations. 

[4]      The actantial model, according to which the subjects have got only the ability of action.

[5]      The concept of nationality does not require community of race, since national otherness does not imply racial otherness, whereas the concept of race embraces other nations as well. It is a mistake to confuse the historical self of a nation with the image of its paradigmatic self.

[6]       Ideological, from the Marxist point of view, as discussed in The German Ideology, implying false, counterfeit, deceptive awareness which suppresses reality.

[7]      Fallmerayers theory has been conducive to the concerns of national historiography, which was born exactly from the need to refute such a theory and resulted in the substantial dominance of racial signification.

[8]       A speech is a mutually excluding context of reference which involves methods of classification in order to organize and interpret the world; it has a canonistic character and are conducive to structuring subjects. A speech is perceived as a way of syntax of units larger than the fundamental linguistic ones. In this respect, a speech is the set of signs structured on codes, that is, langue, which comes between the ability to communicate (langage) and the use of language in particular instances (parole).


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