Greek-American Festival celebrates 40th anniversaryWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“The Greeks have a word — the Greeks have a word for everything — in Greek, the word ‘philoxenia’ means ‘hospitality.’” said Father Aristotle Damaskos of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. “And hopefully, they’ll experience our philoxenia, our hospitality. They’ll come as strangers, and leave as friends.”
He was speaking of visitors to the Greek-American Festival, which will officially begin Sept. 10. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the celebration, held on the grounds of the Holy Trinity Cathedral, a three-day event full of food, music, dance and more food.
“I was there when the first festival started in 1970, and it was a tremendous undertaking for the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral,” said publicity chairman George Sarantou. “The festival was a lot smaller, but it’s always been held Downtown, at Summit and Cherry.”
There have been some changes this year in honor of the big anniversary, the most significant of which is a special Thursday event called “Party with the Greeks.” Held from 6 pm to 12 am on September 9, the small kick-off gala will feature the East River Drive Band performing, as well as a sample of Greek foods on display. The festival proper will begin at noon the next day.
Sarantou said that, during the 40 years he has attended, the festival has seen amazing changes. “It’s grown tremendously on the grounds. We have easily tripled the size of the festival on the grounds there. And we have also expanded our food menu. We have a large variety of gourmet foods platters.”
Father Damaskos, who has been with the parish for nine years, noted that the food was definitely the most popular aspect of the event. “You can’t find a lot of the Greek pastries and such here in town. We don’t have a Greek kind of area, per se, such as Detroit or Chicago,” he said.
So popular is the food, that some of the festival’s most popular events are cooking demonstrations. “The parish ladies put together a cookbook of over 500 Greek and American recipes and that book was introduced last year, and it has sold many, many copies,” Sarantou said. “It has just been phenomenal. We’ve had people buying this from all over the country, via the Internet.”
In addition, the festival features a great deal of Greek music and dancing, featuring the church’s own Hellenic Dance Company in traditional, imported costumes. Most of the dancers come from within the parish, and many of the children take lessons on traditional dance from an early age.
“Our dancers start from pre-school, up to college, and a lot of our college students who are dancing now, were pre-schoolers or in the lower grades when I first came here. So, watching them grow, that’s been a real blessing,” Father Damaskos said.
The event, which is always enormously popular, promises to be bigger than ever in celebration of the anniversary. Sarantou estimated that the festival usually draws 20,000 to 25,000 people over the course of its three days. This year could well exceed that number.
“I think for the residents of Toledo, it gives them an opportunity to meet us, the Greeks, and learn who we are. Obviously, it allows us, as Greek-Americans, to share of ourselves,” Father Damaskos said, adding that, “the income that comes in from that helps us to maintain the ministries of the church, and helps us to reach within the community, as well.”
“The profits in the past have gone toward many worthy projects at the church — we have several times remodeled the interior of the church, as well as the exterior, we have expanded our community center, we built a million dollar addition a couple of years ago onto our community center,” Sarantou said.
He also noted how Holy Trinity offers homeless aid and other community programs. “We think it’s very important to give back to the community, because the community has been very good to Holy Trinity Cathedral.”
For Father Damaskos, the greatest reward is simply reaching out to the people of Toledo. “I think for me, it is getting our people together, working for a common cause, and seeing all the residents of Toledo come together to enjoy our food and our hospitality,” he said. “It’s like, almost, we’re putting on a big party for them, and we get to share our culture and our faith.”