Gyros. The Olympics. Jennifer Aniston.
That’s pretty much the extent of most Americans’ knowledge of Greek tradition and heritage. However, from Sept. 12-14, area residents will have the opportunity to learn about all things Greek as the 18th Annual Greek Festival is held in Fayetteville.
The festival — hosted by Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church — will feature live bands, traditional Greek dance, vendors, arts and crafts and Greek foods and desserts. The Cumberland County Library van will also be there registering children for library cards — so they can check out books on Greece — and the Fayetteville Fire Department will have trucks on hand for kids to scramble on and into, as well as giving the kiddies a chance to aim a fire hose at a simulated fire wall; additionally, children will be treated to a trackless train, two large bouncers, two large inflatable slides and assorted games and activities. For the adults, there will be appearances by Mayor Tony Chavonne; beauty queens from the Dogwood Festival and Miss North Carolina; three Greek dance troupes from Sts. Constatine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church; Greek vendors providing religious and cultural jewelry, antiquities and art; and, there will also be a raffle, with the winner receiving two round trip tickets to Athens, Greece.
Speaking of the “old country,” Athena Sarantoulias came to Fayetteville 39 years ago, and for years operated the old Monticello Restaurant on Gillespie Street with her husband, George.
The restaurant was a downtown landmark and favorite hangout of judges and lawyers who worked at the nearby Cumberland County Courthouse. These judicial officials helped Sarantoulias learn English, while a thriving Greek community welcomed her with open arms and fresh bacalava — despite her geographic origins.
“I am from the southern part of Greece and was welcomed by many from the rival northern part of Greece,” said Sarantoulias. “This was really a big deal.
“The American people welcomed me the second day I came to Fayetteville,” said Sarantoulias. “They supported me, and my husband, all the years we operated the restaurant.”
Sarantoulias has helped repay the kindness of strangers by helping bake pastries for the Greek Festival. She is part of a team that will bake about 60 trays of Greek desserts such as bacalava, finiki and koulakia for the 10,000 or so hungry festival goers expected to show up for the weekend.
Litsa Derosa, secretary at Sts. Constatine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, said the pastries will be baked at the adjacent Hellenic Center. She also says that some Americans have a hard time wrapping their taste buds around the sweet treats.
“Especially bacalava,” said Derosa, who came to Fayetteville from northern Greece 14 years ago following her husband, who is now retired from the military. “It has syrup and most are surprised at just how sweet it is. It’s not what they expected.”
However, Derosa adds that most novice tasters love the taste of finiki and koulakia — Greek versions of cookies.
In addition to Greek desserts, there will be plenty of other Greek specialities, including shish kabobs and gyros.
“There will be a lot of lamb,” said Derosa. “If you haven’t had Greek food before you are in for a real treat.”
But there will be so much more than great Greek food. Musical tastes of all genres will be sated by the Greek band Zephyros from Baltimore. Derosa is particularly excited about the performance by Zephyros, which performed at last year’s festival to much acclaim.
“They are so popular that we had to book them for this year’s festival immediately after last year’s festival,” said Derosa. “They are more than just music — the emcee tells Greek stories and explains each song. Everybody likes them — Greeks and Americans.”
This blending of Greek and American is the very heartbeat of the festival. While the approximately 150 Greek-American families that live in Fayetteville are as American as Freedom Fries and apple pie, they still want to honor their heritage.
“It (the festival) means everything to me,” said retired Father Chrysostom Manuel of Sts. Constatine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church. “It is my very entity, my culture ... music wise, art wise. For those of us who were born there, it reminds us of the old country.”
Sarantoulias, who sold 1,000 tickets to the event this year — the most by any individual — puts it even more succinctly.
“I love America,” said Sarantoulias, “but I also still love Greece.”
The Greek Festival is a major fundraiser for Sts. Constatine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, located at 614 Oakridge Ave. — the other major fundraiser being the church’s famous spaghetti dinner which will be held on Nov. 19, also at the church. The festival will be held at Sts. Constatine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church during the following hours: Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 7 p.m.
Tim Wilkins, Associate Editor
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