Under sunny blue skies that hinted an air of spring, thousands lined both sides of Manhattan's Fifth Avenue waving blue and white flags Sunday to remember the day Greece won its independence from Turkey in 1821.
"We celebrate freedom today and show people that we still believe in democracy and that I am 100 percent Greek-American," said parade marcher John Nikolopoulos, 66, owner of the Bay Ridge Bakery in Brooklyn.
Nikolopoulos has marched in the parade since he left Athens 44 years ago. Each year, he said, he dresses in a typical uniform of a Greek soldier who fought against the Turks 194 years ago.
The parade allowed him to pay homage to "the three mothers in my life -- America, Greece and my mother, who is still alive," Nikolopoulos said.
Nikolopoulos wore a traditional red beret, white pleated skirt, red and black pompom shoes and a silver chain medallion of St. George.
He waved his sword -- his fake pistol tucked in his waist band -- as he rode a horse past spectators. Some along the parade route held placards in Greek that said "God Bless Greece."
Dozens of marching bands followed the NYPD band, the Hellenic American Eastern Orthodox Officers and the Yonkers Military Band. The parade was held up briefly after a horse with the NYPD's mounted unit stepped on a police officer. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the officer was taken to a hospital.
Floats highlighted Miss Greek Independence and an array of church parishes and schools, including the Greek Orthodox Church of Holy Trinity in Hicksville.
Dozens of students from universities across the state marched, representing their college's Hellenic clubs.
Efstratios Voukidis, a marine transportation student at SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx, said attending the annual Fifth Avenue parade "is an honor to recognize Greece's independence and its people." Voukidis led the college's 22-cadet drumming band.
Sen. Charles Schumer joined de Blasio and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at the parade -- all decked out in blue ties to honor Greece.
De Blasio shook hands with paradegoers, offered high-fives to kids and gave pats on the head to toddlers.
"This is a perfect day for a parade with people coming from all around the city . . . to take a special moment to remember Greece's independence and that it is the birthplace of democracy," de Blasio said.