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Stop the Souvlakia! Is it Time to Quit the Greek Festivals?

Stop the Souvlakia! Is it Time to Quit the Greek Festivals?

We all grew up with them – the Greek festival. Each year the Greek-American communities bring out their gyros, baklava, and say Opa, to raise money for their churches. But has the Greek festival become passé or unimportant? Has it become too costly? Is it time for the Greeks to get out of the Greek festival business and start developing some other sound financial projects for our churches to sustain themselves for the next 25… 50… 100 years? Can we continually depend on selling those little succulent morsels of marinated meat known as souvlakia, to support our churches, the cost of which is skyrocketing like everything else? Can’t we come up with a better way to make money?

I know what you’re thinking. Is he out of his mind? Does he have loukoumades for brains? Hear me out.

Think about it. Once a year (sometimes twice a year) most of our churches hold a Greek festival. Preparation usually starts months in advance. First problem… the chairperson. Who will take that thankless and unappreciated job of goading or forcing your friends, families, and fellow parishioners into volunteering for just one more year and then listening to the bickering of those volunteers about everything, or going out begging for donations from the local businesses, or making sure there are enough of everything to go around, and, in the end, hoping it doesn’t rain. It takes a special person (and a hard exterior) to volunteer to be the chairperson of a festival. I never did it – it’s too dangerous.

Second problem… the weather. If you’re holding an outdoor festival, you are subject to the whims of the Ancient Greek gods of weather. No matter how many gyros we sacrifice to them, it can be too cold or too hot, a downpour or a sickening constant drizzle… even snow! The festival was for 4 days… it rained 3. All that preparation down the preverbal tube– it was a Greek tragedy. There are tents… very expensive tents, but if the people don’t come out because of the rain… the tents are worthless.

Third problem… volunteers. How many times are we going to ask Kiria Katina and her elderly friends to make their spanakopita with “rolled-out” filo dough? They work all week at the festival and then can’t get out of bed the Monday after the festival and it always seems that it is the same people working all of the time!

Fourth problem… the cost. The cost of the main ingredients of a festival keeps climbing. Meat for the souvlakia, tomatoes and Feta cheese for the Greek salad, oil to cook, tents, security, advertisement, entertainment… the prices are rising. Back in the 90’s a gyro sandwich was $3.50. Today, $8.00. Pastitsio platter… $15.00. Where does it all stop! How many times are we going to ask those special people that come to support our festival to put out another few dollars for that piece of baklava that gets smaller each year? If the festival has rides and games for the kids… I don’t even want to go there with the price of amusement ride tickets!

So do we really need to break our backs, tempt fate, and hold these Greek festivals? Of course – what did you think I would say?

The Greek festival is as American as Mom’s Apple Pie. It is the reason our fellow Americans now know what a gyro is and most say it the right way with a soft “g”. The Greek festival showcases our Greek culture and heritage through folk dancing, tours of our Greek Orthodox churches, our unique bouzouki music, and of course our Greek food – especially with our reputation of being great cooks.

People look forward to Greek festivals. Our “American” friends are always asking when it is and they go once, twice, or three times during the festival. If there is live entertainment, they are usually out there trying to mimic the dance steps… all in good fun.

Is the Greek festival the best way to keep our churches financially afloat… no, but it’s an easy way and we love it. Those volunteers that work each year might complain but most of them are the first to arrive to work at the festival, and, even though Kiria Katina and her friends might not get up easy on Monday morning… they have a big smile on their faces because they were with their friends and families, especially their grandchildren, working the days of the festival. It gives them purpose. We see friends that we may not have seen for the past year or years. We see our neighbors that live only a few doors down but we don’t really talk with them. Sometimes it is just not about the money.

Last year during the mini-festival at St. Demetrios in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, I even flipped the souvlakia. I think I was the main attraction because the community was not use to seeing me with tongs in hand over a hot grill. They laughed, but I had a great time. Me and my fellow volunteers talked and talked and talked about everything and nothing… the upcoming election, philosophy, music, business… Greek politics (we worked out their current financial situation, why can’t they?) you name it. We started out with a little krasi, then some beer, and a little Ouzo, and by Sunday night, we broke out the bouzouki and the guys sang, or tried to sing, and danced.

Yes, the Greek festival brings the community together. It’s not just about making money but it’s what we Greeks and Americans of Greek descent try to do best… enjoy life and share that enjoyment with others. And God bless those chairmen and all the volunteers! Opa and see you at the next festival!

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  1. Ria Pierelli

    I guess everyone has the same issues during festival time! Lol! Loved it Harry!

    • Harry

      If anyone would know…you and your family certainly would!!

  2. Greg Peetros

    Great article, Harry!

    I’d like to know how you’re the only “male” in that picture?…..Must be the bouzouki.

  3. Harry

    Lol..You’re a poet and don’t even know it. Good job my friend!

  4. Assad Khoury

    What’s a Festival with no bikering, no souvlaki and no Atlantis. Klapsta Charalambe (Harry).

    • Harry

      Thanks Assad – appreciate it. And when we are between festivals, Sophia’s Kouzina in Cherry Hill, NJ, is the place for Greek food!!!!

  5. Mimi

    I say keep the festivals!! It is actually a great way for non-Orthodox to even know who we are and what our faith is. Many (including me) have come to know more about Orhodoxy and perhaps (as I did) convert, or “come home”, as it was so lovingly termed when I was chrismated.

  6. Kostis Kalopodareas

    If this is what Hellenism has been distilled to, while other cultures claim arts, sciences, media savvy, then please keep your Turkish souvlaki….

    How many centers of Hellenic studies exist in the gyro-infested communities?

    How many of the gyro-infested communities actually helped Greece in this greatest of its crises in modern history?

    How many of these souvlaki-toting communities participate in media activism when Greece and Greeks are bashed in their local newspapers and media?

    …add a dollop of Chobani Greek yogurt to my gyro please…..

    • John Pogas

      The beauty of our Greek festivals is more than just food Kostis. Our “xeni” friends and neighbors are also exposed to the many facets of our culture (music, traditional dancing, Orthodox faith, history, etc).

      Don’t believe me? Then please visit the festival at St. Sophia in Valley Forge PA from May 29th thru June 2nd (shameless plug, I know). See for yourself how our non-Greek friends enjoy our rich and wonderful culture.

  7. John Vasiliou

    Great article Harry! Love the part about the festival chairmen! haha

  8. Νικος Νικολαιδης

    Τα ελληνικα φεστιβαλ φαγητου και οι παρελασεις ειναι πολιτισμιακες εκφανσεις ενος δημογραφικου που αργα ‘η γρηγορα θα εκλειψει. Ανηκει στο δημογραφικο εκεινο τμημα της ελληνικης διασπορας που ακολουθει το “αρχιεπισκοπικο μοντελο”, ενα κοινωνιακο μοντελο που καθιερωθηκε ευρεως μεταξυ το 1949 και το 1975-80. Ειναι η περιοδος μεταναστευσης ελληνων προς Αμερικη απο την ελληνικη επαρχια, οπου η θρησκεια επαιζε μεγαλο ρολο στις ζωες των ανθρωπων. Μετα το 1980 παρατηρειται μεταναστευση, απο τα αστικα κεντρα της Ελλαδας, οχι τα χωρια και αυτη η δευτερη μεταναστευση ειναι πιο σεκιουλαριστικη, μορφωμενη, ατομικιστικη, ωφελιμιστικη και ανενταχτη σ οτι αφορα οργανωσεις. Απλα δε συμμετεχει. Η παρελαση και το φεστιβαλ αποτελουν αναθεμα στην ελληνο-αμερικανικη κοινοτητα που θεωρει σωστοτερο να ειμαστε σεκιουλαριστες σε μια χωρα την Αμερικη, που η ιδια ειναι σεκιουλαριστικη. Δεν συλλαμβανουν τον ελληνισμο με υλιστικα συμβολα ( σημαια, σουβλακι, μπουζουκι, στολες ) αλλα ιδεες. Πιστευουν στα βιβλια, την επικοινωνια και τις ιδεες που βγαινουν απ αυτα και οχι στην φολκλορικη τροικα φαγητο-χωρο-μουσικη. Πιστευουν οτι το μεγαλυτερο ιδανικο που γεννησε η Ελλαδα, η Δημοκρατια γεννηθηκε απο ιδεες που προηγηθηκαν του Χριστου κοντα μιση χιλιετηριδα. Μιση χιλιετηριδα δεν ειναι μικρη χρονικα περιοδος. Ειναι το ενα πεμπτο ολης της ιστοριας της πολιτικης Ελλαδας ( ελευθερη ‘η υπο κατοχη ). Η Ελληνο-Αμερικη δε χρειαζεται φεστιβαλ ουτε παρελασεις. Χρειαζεται βιβλιοθηκες, ενεργους στα ξενα μηντια ελληνο-αμερικανους καθηγητες ( γιατι δεν ειναι ) και πολιτιστικα κεντρα ( γιατι εχουμε λιγα ). Δεν ειναι δυνατον η κουλτουρα που γεννησε τη Δημοκρατια, την φιλοσοφια, την ποιηση και την ιστορια να καταναλισκεται και να διαφημιζει οτι η κουλτουρα της ειναι το φαγητο, ο χορος και η μουσικη ! Το γλεντι ! Καθε μορφωμενος μη-Ελληνας Αμερικανος το γνωριζει αυτο. Ποσοι “αρχιεπισκοπικοι” ελληνοαμερικανοι γνωριζουν να ονομασουν τρεις ελληνες ποιητες, εχουν διαβασει Ηροδοτο και ξερουν ποιοι οι συνδεσμοι μεταξυ ελληνων και αμερικανων λογοτεχνων το 50 και το 60 ; Σε μια εποχη που ολα παιρνανε απο τα μηντια, εμεις αντι να προωθουμε τα πιο πανω, προωθουμε τζατζικι-φεστιβαλ και παρελασεις για το 21 ( που ενδιαφερει μονο εμας και δεν εχει απολυτως καμια εφαρμογη στην ευρυτερη αμερικανικη κοινωνια ). Ντροπη !

  9. Amy Chiligiris


    We just had our one-day Greek festival last week at our little Greek Orthodox church in Decatur, IL. I couldn’t have written it better than you did here. Why do we do it? Are we crazy to exhaust ourselves year after year as our population ages and there are fewer of us to do it? The answer is that we must do it to enrich our greater community with a bit of knowledge about our faith and culture, with a hearty dose of fun sprinkled in. We are on our 52nd year of our festival, and praying for many more. Opa!

    • Harry

      Hat’s off to you and your community. May you have another 52 years of bringing the Greek culture and heritage to the Decatur area!!!

  10. John Pogas

    Like most parishioners at our humble parish of St. Sophia, every member of my family works the festival and does it with great pride and joy. We love sharing our Hellenic culture, Orthodox faith and general zest for life with all of those who visit us during this crucial fund raising effort. Come Sunday night we are all exhausted but fulfilled in knowing that we did our part to help and shared the tremendous blessings of our Greek heritage.

    Now if we can just figure out a way to get the weather to work in our favor…..

  11. Demetris

    No! Because its more then just making money, it’s a chance once a year to promote our culture! Dance, food, people, our church! We just need to promote the event, not only by the official promotions, but also as individuals!
    As far as changing the menu? MOST DEFINITELY NO!! Absolutely not, then it will no longer be Greek!

  12. Louie

    Bad article Harry, get your greek ass to Chicago and come to some REAL Greek fests come to my church St. Nicholas in Oak Lawn, IL and try the souvlaki, guarantee it it will make you proud to be Greek,.Greek fests are ALWAYS important to keep the heritage alive dont you forget it. they might be goiung out of style in Philly, but then again whats stylish in Philly lol. No sir greek fests thrive here broer and always will you can put that in your spanikopita and eat it. YASOU

  13. HArry

    Louie…guess you didn’t read the the entire article. Too much Chicago souvlaki I guess. Lol. Don’t worry about Philly. Our festivals are doing just fine. Take care my spanakopita friend.

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