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PEACH WEEKENDER | CULTURE

Rich in history: Greek-American Festival keeps traditions alive

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    Dancers from Asteria put on a show during the Greek-American Festival at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Toledo in 2016.

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    Pete Petros of Toledo prepares gyros during last year's Greek-American Festival at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Toledo.

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    George Spillson, 14, flips pita bread at the Gyros and Fries booth during the 2016 Greek-American Festival.

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    People line up for gyros and fries during the festival in 2016.

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    Ted Bekos of Toledo eyes a shish kabob while eating during his break during last year's Greek-American Festival.

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    Visitors enjoy the Greek-American Festival at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Toledo in 2106.

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    Asteria dancers, led by dance leader Persilla Zervos, in orange, put on a show during the 2016 festival.

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When you’re talking about styles of Greek dance, “new” is a relative term.

Think less than 100 years or so, suggested Persilla Zervos, who directs the Hellenic Dance Company at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Toledo.

“One of the main heritage dances is 1,500 years old,” she said, referring to the Kalamatianos. “There’s a variation of it danced in every village and island in Greece.”

This rich tradition of cultural dance will be on display at the 48th annual Greek-American Festival, hosted by Holy Trinity Cathedral, 740 N Superior St., on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Zervos’ dancers perform each day of the festival, their repertoire showcasing a diverse range of style and skill. Her teens and young adults, for example, dance in couples, lines, and, of course, the counter-clockwise circles that are the foundation of many heritage dances.

Her 3 to 5-year-old dancers do too — just sometimes with a little more spontaneity.

“You’ll always see something unique,” she said with a laugh. “A little shimmy here or there.”

IF YOU GO:

What: Greek-American Festival

When: 11 a.m. to midnight Friday, 2 p.m. to midnight Saturday, noon to 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, 740 Superior St.

Admission: $6 on Friday after 3 p.m.and on Saturday or $3 on Sunday. Children 12 and younger are free when accompanied by a parent or guardian.

Information: toledogreekfest.com

The Hellenic Dance Company is just one of the ways that the parish showcases its culture, its faith, and its food at the annual festival, which George Sarantou, a parishioner and publicity chairman for the festival, said attracts between 20,000 and 25,000 party-goers to the downtown cathedral grounds over the course of the weekend.

It runs 11 a.m. to midnight Friday, 2 p.m. to midnight Saturday, and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $6 on Friday after 3 p.m. and on Saturday; it’s $3 on Sunday. Children 12 and younger are admitted free when accompanied by a parent or guardian.

This year’s festival is dedicated to the memory of Christos Theodorou, festival co-chair since 1989, who passed away in June. The Rev. Larry Legakis, joined by festival co-chairman George Sares and Terry Irmen, leads a dedication ceremony at 6 p.m. Friday.

In addition to periodic performances of the Hellenic Dance Company, who perform in age-separated groups ranging from the youngest Ellinopedia to the oldest Hellenic Dancers, festival attractions include cooking demonstrations, educational lectures, and cathedral tours. There will also be vendors, children’s entertainment, live music and — of course — plenty of opportunities to eat.

“The food and the pastries are our biggest draw,” Sarantou said.

Volunteers have been working for months to prepare 28,000 pastries, said pastry chairman Connie Mynihan, who added the goal is that even the latest festival-goer on Sunday will be able to have a taste. That total includes 5,500 pieces of traditional baklava, which, alongside the chocolate and coconut-flavored baklava, ranks as the most demanded pastry.

“Everyone wants a piece of the baklava, of one kind of another,” Mynihan said.

Festival-goers can also try chicken oregano, souvlaki, pastichio, moussaka, spanakopita, tiropitas and dolmathes, among other savory treats, in $12 platters or a la carte. The popular lamb shank dinner, served with rice pilaf and green beans, returns this year; so do lamb, beef, and chicken gyros.

Parishioner-led cooking demonstrations also feed into the food-centric celebration: Father Legakis and his wife, Jenny, make garithes me rizi, or shrimp with rice, at 7 p.m. Friday; Steven and Penny Jenkins demonstrate creative uses of feta at 6 p.m. Saturday; Philip and Linda Dionyssiou make fasolia me saltsa, or green beans with sauce, at 2:30 p.m. Sunday; and Gene and Fotini Haberman make halva, a farina and nut dessert, at 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

A “kefenion” serving Greek and American coffee and a “taverna” serving domestic and imported wine and beer round out the refreshment offerings.

Those interested in learning about Greek culture will also have ample opportunity: Joyce Anagnos speaks on the history of Greeks in Toledo at 8 p.m. Friday; Dawn Anagnos leads a Greek lesson at 4 p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday; and David Mynihan presents “How the Divine Liturgy Engages Our Five Senses” at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

Father Legakis leads cathedral tours at 6:30 p.m. Friday, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 3:30 p.m. Sunday; the cathedral is open for self-guided tours during most festival hours.

Dance performances are sprinkled throughout the three-day festival; a full schedule is available online at toledogreekfest.com.

These are the highlight for the children and young adults of the Hellenic Dance Company, which Zervos said has roots as old as the more than 100-year-old cathedral. While the teens and young adults rehearse all year, maintaining a repertoire of 40-some dances that they perform at events throughout the year, the younger dancers begin rehearsing in June.

The Greek-American Festival, where they perform in front of family and friends, typically wearing costumes that reflect the regions of Greece where they have roots, is a highlight.

“They love it,” Zervos said. “It’s a big thing, the festival.”

Contact Nicki Gorny at ngorny@theblade.com or 419-724-6133.

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