Columbia’s 33rd Annual Greek Festival provides the Midlands with a taste of Greece during its four-day run, Sept. 19 through 22 at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral.
Literally and quite deliciously. But also figuratively.
There are varied aspects of the festival, which has delightfully brought Greek culture, history and hospitality to Columbia for more than three decades.
But the food is the highlight of the festival.
“The best thing about the Greek Festival is the aroma of the food,” says Mary Rickman, the festival’s director. “The food is absolutely fantastic. They’re cooking on the grills — souvlakis, Greek sausages, lolllipop lamb chops, Greek pizzas ...”
It doesn’t matter if you can’t pronounce food such has keftedes, pastitsio or dolmades. Your taste buds will recognize its deliciousness.
“As Greeks, we are born to serve and be hospitable,” says Niki Stewart, who is is charge of the food for the festival. “And most of the way we’re hospitable is through food.”
Lunch and dinner plate menus include broiled seasoned chicken, keftedes (Greek-style meatballs), pastichio (Greek lasagna), roasted lamb and peasant shrimp — all served with spanakopita and Greek salad.
But there is much more, like Greek burgers, souvlaki, Greek pizza, Greek roasted potatoes, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and an array of pastries like baklava, loukoumades and karidopita.
In all, there are about 75 menu items. Add the food available in the Greek Grocery store and you’ll have access to about 100 Greek food items.
Members of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral prepare all of the food for the festival, which includes about 1,200 pounds of cooked lamb, 12,000 dolmades, 75,000 pieces of spanakopita (spinach pie) and an array of other Greek delights.
“It grows and grows every year,” Stewart says.
This year, the festival will bring back its Greek coffee and frappes, with a Greek Coffee Shop. There will also be Greek beer and Greek wine.
“The greatest thing about the Greek Festival, and what I’m most proud of, is that it exemplifies and exposes all our rich traditions and our culture,” Stewart says.
“We share our rich tradition with everybody. Everyone can come and enjoy all our Greek meals, all of our delicious delicacies we prepared.”
The Greek Festival is one of the most popular events in Columbia, drawing about 120,000 in the past.
“It’s the biggest party in town for four days,” says Steve Bitzas, one of the festival’s chairmen. “Everyone gets to be a Greek for a day. Our whole life is based around the kitchen, the table, the food.”
While the food is definitely the main attraction for most, there are other entertainments that keep folks busy between samplings.
“You see people laughing, having so much fun,” Rickman says. “Everybody is happy at the Greek Festival.”
There will be 26 vendors offering shopping opportunities, offering everything from fine jewelry, to Greek costumes.
There is a Greek Grocery store, offering homemade frozen meals and Greek products such as olive oil, olives and honey.
There is Greek folk dancing, hourly video presentations and discussions of Greek culture, history and heritage.
There will Greek bands inside and outside through out the festival and a “kids corner,” which includes a marionette theater.
“It is absolutely amazing,” Rickman says. “You’re look at everything that is going on and think, ‘I don’t have to go to Greece! I can see everything at the Greek Festival.’ ”
One thing festival organizers suggest making time for (perhaps before dessert) is a tour of the cathedral where you can see the magnificent, newly completed narthex iconography and the Cathedral iconography.
“Take a tour of the church,” Bitzas says. “That’s a must.”
Money raised at the festival goes to the Holy Trinity Cathedral, and local charities.
Every year, the festival organizes a special event. This year, it will be an event at 6 p.m. on Sept. 20 to honor Prisoners of War and soldiers missing in action. The 10- to 15-minute event will include a color guard and speaker.
“We do something like that every year,” Rickman says. “I like to do something special. It’s going to be another special, special year.”
Rickman says to remember one Greek word: “yiasou,” which means hello or goodbye. When you see festival workers, greet them with “yiasou.”
“It’s the culture,” Rickman says. “We are so proud, we want to share it with you.”
Lezlie Patterson, special to GoColumbia
If you go
When: Sept. 19-22
Times: Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, noon-8 p.m.
Where: Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 1931 Sumter Street
Cost: No entrance fee
For more information: www.columbiasgreekfestival.com
Visitors are invited to tour the new sanctuary at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. Tour the newly completed narthex iconography and Cathedral iconography.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
1 to 4 p.m. Sunday
Modest dress required. Please do not bring food or drink into the church.
Located in the Main Building, video presentations and discussions of Greek Culture, History & Heritage, and Modern Greece will occur hourly.
11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday
Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday
Enjoy Greek folk dancing throughout the Greek Festival at the “plaka,” the festival’s town square.
Inside: 5:30, 6:30 and 7 p.m.
Outside: 8 p.m.
Inside: 11:30 a.m., 12:30, 2, 4:30, 5:30 and 7 p.m.
Outside: 1:30 and 8 p.m.
Inside: 1 and 2 p.m.
Outside: 1:30 and 2:30 p.m.
An event to honor Prisoners of War and soldiers missing in action. The 10- to 15-minute event will include a color guard and speaker. 6 p.m., Sept. 20, gym
The Nick Trivelas Band and The Aegean Duo, both inside and outside throughout the day and evening