My Big Fat Greek Festival

My Big Fat Greek Festival

Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church’s annual event returns

By Kevin J. Gray

This weekend brings the return of one of Dayton’s oldest festivals, the Dayton Greek Festival. Hosted by the families of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, this year the festival runs from Friday through Sunday, Sept. 7-9, on the church grounds at 500 Belmonte Park North, next to the Dayton Art Institute. It’s an opportunity to immerse one’s self in the food, music, dancing and hospitality of the Greek Orthodox community.

The event, in its 54th year, is a hugely popular one, with people returning year after year. Dee Fricioni, who chairs publicity for the event, notes that, “When a visitor comes to the Greek Festival, they really are stepping into another culture that they appreciate. Visitors love coming back every year, and lots of them come back with Tupperware containers so they can take our food and have it for dinner later.”

The Food

Imagine the aroma of lamb dinners slow-roasted in a flavorful sauce or the texture of flaky phyllo dough as you bite into a Greek pasty. One of the biggest highlights of the event is the food. And there’s a lot to choose from, all prepared by the parishioners. Visitors might start off with pastitsio (the Greek version of lasagna), moussaka (eggplant casserole), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), lamb and chicken dinners or delicious gyro pita-wrapped sandwiches. Meatless dishes are also available – spinach and cheese pies in phyllo dough, meatless pastitsio and Greek salads topped with feta cheese and kalamata olives. Skyline chili coneys and cheese fries are always a hit with the kids.

Wash the meal down with a menu of imported beers and wines, or just nibble on myriad hors d’oeuvres. But don’t forget dessert: try a baklava sundae or choose from a variety of pastries, including the popular baklava and honey puffs.

The Dancing

Another major highlight of the festival is the music and dancing. Visitors will hear the traditional Greek folk melodies played on the bouzouki as soon as they enter the festival. The music, and the accompanying dancing, is part of being Greek.

Fricioni explains that dancing is a big part of Greek Orthodox heritage. In parishes throughout the United States, children start dance programs at ages four and five and go through high school. The dances students learn are the same ones their parents and grandparents learned, so it’s not unusual to go to a Greek Orthodox party, wedding, or festival and see children dancing with their parents and grandparents.

Expect to see dancers from ages five to 75 perform in traditional costumes. But the dancing is not limited to the parishioners. Everyone is encouraged to join the dance floor and learn a few moves. As they say, “No one can stay in a bad mood when they Greek dance!”

The Church

The church itself is another main attraction. Take a tour of the building to experience architectural goodies, especially if you haven’t seen Byzantine architecture before. And for those not familiar with the Eastern Orthodox faith, the tour includes a short educational presentation.

Be sure to visit the Grecian Plaza boutique for jewelry and items directly from Greece. Enjoy the food? Pick up a cookbook (including the “Festival of Recipes,” a cookbook written by the parishioners) and items from the grocery section so you can make your own Greek recipes at home. Take advantage of the cooking demonstrations offered at various times in the Memorial Hall.

The People Who Make It Happen

The event is entirely volunteer-run. Festival chairs Linda and Andrew Kididis work with Father Mark Emroll to manage a couple hundred volunteers, many who start work months before, making the food and preparing for the event. In fact, the baking starts as early as June to prepare all of the food for the event. Proceeds for the event go to charities associated with the church.

When To Go

The hours are Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit the festival in the early afternoon hours of any of its three days to avoid the lines. Admission is free on Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (perfect for a lunch break or sneak out of work a little early!)  For the rest of the weekend, admission is only $2 for adults and children under 12 are free. Each paid admission comes with one free raffle ticket. For anyone wearing a Downtown Dayton Music Revival wristband, admission is free.

Getting There

Parking can be limited, so your best bet is to take the free shuttle bus. Service begins on Friday at 5 p.m. from the corner of First and Wilkinson Streets in downtown Dayton at the AMPCO Parking Lot.  On Saturday and Sunday, any shuttle bus for the Downtown Dayton Revival event will include a stop at the Greek Festival: the Ampco lot, Sinclair Community College, the Schuster Center, and the Montgomery County Administration Building. Shuttles will run during festival hours every hour on the half hour and drop off at the door.

For further information visit www.DaytonGreekFestival.com, or call church office 937-224-0601.

Reach DCP freelance writer Kevin J. Gray at KevinGray@DaytonCityPaper.com

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