Labor Day weekend may signify the unofficial end of summer, but the Greek festival season continues with events in Ohio and Massachusetts. Be sure to enjoy the food, music, and fun this weekend, September 9-11 at the 58th Annual Greek Festival at Annunciation Church in Dayton, OH, the 46th Annual Toledo Greek-American Festival, and the Glendi at the Greek Cultural Center in Springfield, MA.
The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 500 Belmonte Park North in Dayton, OH will hold its annual Greek Festival Sept. 9-11. The church is a Dayton landmark and a testament to the rich Greek history of the city. In 1880, the first Greeks, reportedly Thomas Caroompas and Chris Politz, moved to Dayton, according to my Dayton Daily News. Charles Zonars and Harry Chakeres were among the immigrants that followed in 1903. The community grew to 15 families by 1910 and the devotion to the Greek language, tradition, and Orthodox Christian religion was strong. Church services were held in downtown spaces with traveling priests paid with donations conducting the liturgy, so the need for a more permanent place of worship was great. By 1921, a down payment of $5,000 was raised by 65 Greek families for an existing Protestant church located at 15 S. Robert Blvd. The white wooden structure served the community for over twenty years until a parcel of land was selected for a new church the growing community could call its own. Purchased in 1945 for a little more than $34,000, the equivalent of about $451,000 today, the three and a half acre property at 500 Belmonte Park North would be the site of the new church. On a hilltop with a view of the Great Miami River, the groundbreaking took place in 1948 with over 275 families in attendance. The official opening of the brick structure topped with a copper dome took place in the fall of 1951 though the interior had yet to be finished. The church was finally completed in 1955.
A description of the church from the1964 Dayton Daily News that still holds true today observed, “The church sits on a hill north of the Art Institute. Below are the rooftops of a modern city and inside the church the viewer can easily imagine himself transported back to the 15th century when church architecture reached a new magnificence with its blending of Easter splendor and Christian art. Objects and paintings of breath-taking beauty adorn the church. Designed in the shape of a Greek cross it is of authentic Byzantine architecture and is unique in Dayton.”
The nave is adorned with 54 icons and crystal chandeliers while more than 40 stained glass windows illuminate the space of the church. Life-long church member Evanthia Valassiades noted in the Dayton Daily News “The neat thing about it is it puts you in the right environment to pray.” The Kettering resident continued, “When you come into our church you see the story of Christ, you hear the priest chanting and you hear the music from the choir. You can pray any place, but when you are there it’s different. It lifts you up.”
Nearly 400 families attend Annunciation Church and consider it the heart of the Greek community. Valassiades remarked, “It’s our second family. When kids move away we tell them, ‘Go find the Greek church — it will be almost like home. The traditions and the warmth are the same. It’s our second home.”
The Greek Festival at the Annunciation Church takes place Sept. 9-11. The hours for Sept. 9 and 10 are 11 AM to 11 PM; and Sept. 11 from 11 AM to 6 PM.
Admission is free on Friday Sept. 9 from 11 AM to 5 PM. Admission after 5PM and for the rest of the weekend is $2. For children under age 12, admission is free.
Annunciation Church under construction in Dayton, OH. Photo: Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Dayton, OH website
The 46th annual Greek-American Festival takes place this weekend, Sept. 9-11, and attendees should prepare themselves for a lot of food. Preparations began months ago just to be ready for the festival. Connie Mynihan, the pastry coordinator, told the Toledo Blade while she worked on the syrup for the baklava, “The whole summer is filled; we started prepping the first week in June.”
Among the foods prepared during the summer by Mynihan and the team of dozens of bakers, are thousands of sweets including 6,000 pieces of baklava, 1,440 pieces of chocolate baklava, and thousands of savory items including 13,000 stuffed grape leaves- dolmadakia.
Even with the thousands of sweets made, they reportedly sell out every year. Attendees should get there early to make sure they get at least a piece of galaktobouriko, diples, kataifi, kourambiethes, koulourakia, finikia, karithopita, paximathia, floyeres, and macaroons.
Mynihan’s favorite is diples. Of Greek heritage, she noted that her mother was “the worst cook in the world” and “my grandmother, who didn’t speak English, she taught me some things, but she died when I was still a teenager.”
In order to learn how to make the various traditional sweets, Mynihan attended workshops at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. She observed, “I came to the workshops and I just learned,” adding that the church still offers workshops.
For those eager to see how it’s done before attending a workshop, can attend Greek cooking demonstrations during the festival. On Friday at 7 PM, George and Barb Sarantou will make kritharaki; on Saturday at 6 PM, Sophia Spillson will make melitzana me tyri (eggplant Parmesan); on Sunday at 2:30 PM, Helen Matthews will make galaktobouriko; and at 4:30 PM, Tonia and Terry Irman will make chicken souvlakia.
George Sarantou joked, “I got roped into it. My culinary skills are not outstanding. My wife’s are fantastic.” Toledo’s finance director and the spokesman for the festival, Sarantou has taken part since the first Greek-American Festival took place in Toledo in 1970. A college freshman then, Sarantou observed, “Today we take for granted that you can get Greek food at almost any restaurant. In 1970, very few restaurants had Greek food.”
The festival, he noted, is the Greek community’s way of “sharing our culture and traditions and keeping them alive.” Sarantou continued, “It’s so important for ethnic groups to share their heritage and their food. We do this to share it with people because we get excited about people who come to festival who are not Greek. They love the food, the pastries, they love watching the young people dance, and that’s very heartwarming to us. It’s just our way of sharing that and that’s the beautiful thing about America.”
Various dance groups and musicians will perform at the festival, and entertainment for the children, cultural and religious booths, and tours of the cathedral will also be available.
A series of three lectures on Greek language and culture will be held during the festival. “The Antikythera Mechanism: How the Ancient Greeks Invented the Computer” takes place on Friday at 8 PM; “Greek Lessons Made Easy for Adults and Children” on Saturday at 4:30 PM; and “After 1,200 Years: The 2016 Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church” on Sunday at 1:30 PM.
The festival gates are located at Superior and Walnut Streets and Summit and Walnut Streets. They open on Friday at 11 AM. From then until 3 PM, admission is free. After 3 PM on Friday and all day Saturday, admission is $5. Sunday is family day, and admission is $2. Children ages 12 and under attend for free when accompanied by an adult.
Glendi at the Greek Cultural Center in Springfield, MA
The only Greek festival in Springfield, affectionately called the Glendi, takes place on Sept. 9-11 at the Greek Cultural Center. Tony Lalikos, chairman of the 2016 Glendi, told The Republican, “With the smell of Greek food in the air, dancing, and live music, an atmosphere is generated for the public to come in and feel what it is like to be Greek for the weekend.” Sponsored by St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral, the first Glendi took place in 1978. Now in its 38th year, the event is still extremely popular Greek cultural experience for all. The food may be the biggest draw to the festival, but there is also live music by Hellenic Express, traditional folk dancing performed by the Glendi Dancers in their traditional Greek costumes, imported Greek products to buy, activities for the kids, and opportunities to learn more about the church, religion, and Greek culture.
The menu features all the favorites, including souvlaki, pastitsio, moussaka, gyros, spanakopita, lamb with orzo, and for dessert, baklava, loukoumades, and diples. Foods can be purchased individually, or as a sit-down meal in the Greek Cultural Center. Al fresco dining with seating under the tent and ordering to go are also available. An outdoor taverna will serve Greek and American wines, beer, Metaxa, and ouzo.
Lalikos observed that the Rev. Christopher H. Stamas, pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral does a wonderful job of mixing religion into the celebration, as reported in The Republican.
“Father Chris will be giving tours of the chapel and cathedral, and there will be an area in the lobby of the cultural center where Greek Orthodox religious books and other items will be for sale, as well as someone on hand to explain the Greek Orthodox faith for those interested in learning more,” he said.
The history of the buildings and detailed descriptions of the artwork adorning the interior, including the mosaics and Byzantine stained glass, and an introduction to Eastern Orthodox Christianity, will be presented during the tour. Seminars on Byzantine art, movies, and more are also part of the cultural event.
The admission for the Glendi is only $1 and includes a free raffle ticket. Lucky attendees could win a top prize of $1,000 or other items up such as jewelry, gift certificates, and more. All the proceeds from the event benefit the ministries of St. George Cathedral.
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