“OPA! STIN-eh YAH-mas!” (Cheers)

T he yearly celebration of Greek life is an onus that Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Dayton bears proudly. The Annunciation Church bases its faith not only on religion but the social programs and abundance of lively music, rich food, and dancing since ancient times. The Dayton Greek Festival was started in Dayton 60 years […]

Dayton Greek Festival at Belmont Park


Traditional Greek costumes and dance have been celebrated at Greek Festival for 60 years.

By Tammy Newsom

The yearly celebration of Greek life is an onus that Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Dayton bears proudly. The Annunciation Church bases its faith not only on religion but the social programs and abundance of lively music, rich food, and dancing since ancient times. The Dayton Greek Festival was started in Dayton 60 years ago as a picnic in the church’s backyard.

“Now it is one of the city’s biggest festivals as well as the biggest fundraiser to preserve our church,” says Greek Festival publicist Debra Pulos, whose husband is a lifelong member and one of 400 families in the congregation. “My 27-year-old daughter has been dancing since age 4 or 5,” says Pulos. “She’s really good. She knows her stuff. She will share that celebration at a church wedding.”

Pulos’s 85-year-old mother-in-law has been cooking for the festival for 39 years. “She loves to bake cookies, called koluria,” says Pulos, who anticipates this and other deserts to be sold out by the weekend. “Somatas too. Somatas and baklava were prepared through the month.” An crowd of 25,000 or so is anticipated this year.

George Karras, owner and operator of The Market, a Bellbrook retail grocer, is also co-founder of the Greek Tycoons, a traditional Greek music band. The Greek Tycoons play shows and festivals of traditional Greek music all through the fall and winter. Karras himself plays the bouzouki, a Greek stringed instrument that looks like a guitar.

“Greek music is very upbeat and fun and it has a lot of energy. There are over 500 Greek dances originating from Greece,” says Karras. “Greece is very mountainous. Before modern transportation, farmers in villages didn’t move or travel but each village at religious holidays would celebrate dancing as part of its life, with variations from region to region, and island to island.

“What people will see is a mixture of dancing from all the different region of Greece, from the mainland and the southern peninsula,” explains Karras. “So, the (church’s) dance groups—four age groups—ranging from kindergarten to college-aged and adult, will be performing traditional folk dancing as well as modern Greek music. They will be doing dances from the Peloponnese region and the northern province of Macedonia as well as the Greek islands, four regions in all.”

Greek churches offer dancing to youngsters early on as part of their social programs. The youngest dancers range from Kindergarten to 3rd grade (the Ebzonakia); the middle school group, the Macedonians (named after the region); and the high school group is called The Islanders, (the Nisiotes). The adult group is the Ellas dancers. This group is for college-aged and beyond. “The adult group practices on their own and via Skype and social media over the summer. The Greek Tycoons will perform most of the music for the festival, but the dance groups, since they are choreographed, will be performing with prerecorded music,” says Karras.

There will be a cultural exhibit set up on the stage to honor the ancient Greek colony Byzantium (which later became Constantinople, then Istanbul). The festival’s boutique features imported Greek jewelry with the traditional Greek key design.

A full lamb shank dinner will be served, with a number of different side dishes: Greek green beans, rice and salad, spinach and cheese triangles and homemade bread. Also, one can expect gyro sandwiches and Greek fries.

The menu expands to also include pastitisio zorbas (the Greek version of lasagna), moussaka (eggplant casserole), dolmades (stuffed grape leaves); gyro pita-wrapped sandwiches and Saganaki, flaming cheese; pastitsio, spinach and cheese pies in phyllo dough, and Greek Pizza. Locally made tsoureki (sweet bread) and tzatziki sauce will be served, which goes with garlic cucumber sauce for a gyro sandwich—typically a white sauce goat’s milk. Although food will be sold at festival time, there is little traditional Greek cuisine available to the general public throughout the remainder of the year in Dayton.

“Greek restaurants and Greek church festivals are the only ways to get really good Greek food,” says Karras. “Sadly, the one lacking tradition is that here in Dayton there has yet to form a traditional all-Greek restaurant. Skyline Chili is owned by a Greek family and is one place where the cooking is heavily influenced by a Greek chili recipe. Cinnamon is used quite often in Greek cooking. The Greek folks from (Skyline) Cincinnati use the same beef.

“I’m blessed to be not only able to perform the music but also act as an emcee—a voice to explain of the history of the dances for everybody that shows up. Greek festivals are a way to share our heritage, culture and faith.”

The Dayton Greek Festival takes place Sept. 7 and 8 from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Sept. 9 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at 500 Belmonte Park North, Dayton, next to the Dayton Art Institute. Admission is free before 5 p.m. Friday, and $2 for the rest of the weekend. Children under 12 and active/retired military admitted free. For more information visit
daytongreekfestival.com.

 

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