uac082912001.gif It’s about family, faith and culture. It’s about food, dancing and community. It’s about celebrating. It’s Greekfest 2012.

Every September for the past 22 years the Greek community has spent an entire weekend celebrating and sharing all things Greek with the community. This year, the festival falls on the weekend of Sept. 7-9, and it promises to be even bigger and better than before. And it’s free.

A cornerstone of the Greek culture is its faith. The congregation of Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church are passionate about their faith — so much so that church tours are offered throughout the Greek Fest. Visitors who take the tour get a peek at sanctuary and the many religious icons that are a part of the worship services. Father Alexander Papagikos leads the tours and explains the faith, taking questions from visitors along the way.

A new event this year, is Faith and Family Sunday, which is scheduled for Sept. 9. All clergy and church families are invited to participate in the Greek Orthodox Divine Liturgy Sunday morning, and if that is inconvenient, to attend, they are invited to lunch. On this day, in honor of faith, family and worship, a donation to Fayetteville Urban Ministry will be made. The donation will come directly from a portion of the Sunday lunch proceeds at the Greek Fest.

“Each year we choose an organization to support and this year it is Fayetteville Urban Ministry,” said Kelly Papagikos, event spokesperson. “Sunday we are having Faith and Family Day. After other congregations have f nished their services, they are invited to come and join us for lunch and tour of the church. If anyone wants to worship with us that day they are more than welcome.”

The food at the Greek Fest is reason enough to come for a meal or two throughout the weekend, but supporting the Fayetteville Urban Ministry makes it that much more enjoyable. The tables in the food tent stay full during the Greek Fest as gyros, souvlaki, spanikopita and other delicacies are served to eager customers. The food offered to the crowds comes from the same recipes used for generations in the old country.

For dessert, don’t forget the ever-popular Greek pastries that are available for sale. Baklava, Finikia and Kataifi are just a few of the many confections usually sold at the fest. Members of the Greek community spend days preparing for the fest and serve only the best to the guests that come to the celebration.

“The women in the Greek community work for weeks to prepare for this. Everything is freshly hand-made. There is no store-bought baklava for sale at this festival,” said Papagikos. “The women pass the torch from generation to generation in hopes that the younger women will be then next generation to make the pastries. The pastries are always the first to sell out — no matter how much the church makes.”

Each year the dance troupes perform dances from Greece for the visitors to the festival. This year they will perform in new costumes from various regions of their native land. The Nick Trivelas Band is scheduled to perform this year. Trivelas performs regularly at festival and events in the southeast and has been 08-29-12-cover-story.gifperforming for more than 35 years.

While Greek and American beer and wine imports are popular, a new addition for adults this year is the uozo blue shots. Uozo is black-licorice flavored liquor popular with the Greeks and it packs a wallop.

“It will knock your socks off,” said Papagikos. “…and give you a taste of Greece.”

The Greek Festival is a popular event that grows each year. What started in the fellowship hall has overfl owed into the lawn and church property. There will be a larger playground for the children this year, as well as more vendors at the Greek Market. Take a little bit of Greece home from the fest. Pick up a few items at the Greek grocery market or the ever-expanding Grecian Marketplace.

“The markets are so popular, we are always looking for ways to add new vendors,” said Papagikos.

Looking for Greek god-like skin?

“We have added a new line of soaps this year that are made with things like goat’s milk and olive oil,” she added.

The raffle, a staple at Greek Fest every year, costs $5 per ticket. Tickets are drawn hourly for prizes and the grand prize is either $2,000 or two round-trip tickets to Athens, Greece.

On Friday , Sept. 6, local schools are invited to come and enjoy a meal and learn about the Greek culture.

“Last year more than 400 students from surrounding schools came to learn about the culture,” said Papagikos. “This way we are able to give back education-wise once a year. We love having them — we give them lunch, teach them to dance and enjoy sharing our culture with them. The Greeks are known for their fellowship and warmth. It is called filoxenia — fellowship, warmth and love — and that is definately something Greeks are known for.”

Not only does the Greek Fest open the hearts of the Greek community during the weekend of the festival, it builds a sense of purpose and community in the weeks and months leading up to the event — and it’s not just for the Greeks.

“It is amazing how many people from outside the church come to help with the fest,”” said Papagikos. “With all the different cultures blending in Fayetteville everyone longs to come to the Greek Fest. It is a place where everyone feels welcome and accepted. It is always a good time with lots of good food …you can’t help but walk away with a new Greek friend.”

The festival is held at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church at 615 Oakridge Dr. The festival starts on Friday around lunch time and runs through 10 p.m. Saturday the hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. Call the church at 484-2010 for more information.

Photo: Fayetteville’s Greek population comes from all over Greece, according to Kelly Papagikos, wife of Father Alexander Papagikos at Sts. Helen and Constantine Greek Orthodox Church.

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