ORANGE, CT – Arriving at the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Barbara in Orange, CT, whose Greek festival was held September 1-4, familiar Greek melodies echoed through our ears.
It was a magical scene: young children of first- second- and third-generation immigrants, many of which probably don’t even speak Greek or have ever visited Greece, dancing barefoot on the grass.
Preparations happen long in advance, as the community comes together to bake Greek desserts and, of course, the meals themselves.
Eleni Wachter told The National Herald that “everything is made by members of the community during the summer, especially in August. We begin in July. All are homemade, by us. The greatest thing about our festival is that people of all ages participate: from three or four years old up to 97. Our children learn Greek dances; they rehearse all summer long.”
Despite the blazing heat, volunteers faithfully stand at their grills, skewering lamb and ribs, and frying loukoumades. “I am preparing one of the lambs to skewer,” Antonis Koutroumanis told TNH, who hails from Aigio and has lived in Connecticut for 60 years now. He goes back to Greece every years, and has been cooking the lamb at St. Barbara’s festival for 36 years now, “just like my predecessor taught me.”
“We roasted 18 lambs,” says Phoivos Augustis. “On Easter, we cooked over 30, as we have over 700 families to feed,” added Nicholas Milas. Both are from Andros.
At the ever-popular loukoumades stand are Faidra Zikos and Efstratia Gerakeli, from Kozani and Plomari (Lesbos), respectively. “I came with my parents when I was 16,” Zikos told TNH. “I’ve lived here 35 years; I miss Greece and try visiting every three or four years,” Gerakeli added, as she offered us a plate.
Among the attendees was Minority Leader (R) in the Connecticut House of Representatives Themis Klarides, whose roots are in Thessaloniki and Lesbos. She says she attends the festival every year and never forgets from where she came.
“We have an amazing community here in Connecticut. I was born here, and my mother grew up in this parish. Our community is united and loving. We probably have the biggest festival in the area. Many people come from everywhere, and not just Greeks, since we organize multiple philanthropic events all year round.”
Parish Council President Val Lott told TNH: “I was born here. My parents are from Agia Paraskevi of Mytilene. I try visiting Greece every two years. All of the members of our community work for the objective of helping our church. Non-Greeks come here every year as well and they really enjoy it. Some come all four days.
We are about 750 families. Our Greek school operates with 75 students and volunteer teachers and staff. Families of second, third, and fourth generations learn the simplest words in Greek and they know better Greek than their whole family. Just like that, we help them with the use of technology and modern teaching techniques, so they can open up their heart and mind to the beauty of the Greek language.”
Ignatios Vasilellis, new to the area and also from Lesbos, told TNH that “I came here three years ago. I met my wife on the island and she brought me to the United States. I created my own business. I make yogurt and rice pudding, the same business I had in Greece. I have a factory, sell wholesale, and now I’ll start distributing my products to some big supermarkets. His wife, Meni, has been part of the community ever since she was a little girl, and she participates in the Festival every year. “I always danced and helped around,” she said.