The smell of sweetbreads, lamb shanks and moussaka will fill St. George Orthodox Church’s Hellenic Center during its Greek Festival this weekend.
Running from Friday to Sunday, it’ll include everything from Greek food and dancing to church tours.
The latter will be given by parish priest Rev. Father Neofitos Sarigiannis, who is a newcomer to the church and has yet to attend the festival, which is in its 45th year.
“I have heard about this festival for many years from people from my old hometown in Queens, and I can’t wait to experience it for myself,” Sarigiannis said. “We hope to also express our Greek hospitality [or] philoxenia through welcoming everyone to visit our church, the jewel of our grounds and our reason, our why, for all our hard work and efforts.”
Services and church tours will be offered each day of the festival, the latter covering the congregation’s 100-plus year history in the Capital Region.
Elsewhere, the feet of the church’s dance troupe members will be flying, as dancers from ages 5 to 25 perform in traditional costumes. The folk dances are from both the Greek mainland and the islands and the origins of some date as far back as the ancient Greeks.
Throughout the weekend, there will also be live music from Prometheus, a Capital Region band that was formed thanks to the Greek Festival. It’s made up of eight members, each of either first or second-generation Americans of Greek descent.
Of course, one of the main attractions is the food and volunteers like Gladys Paravalos and Elaine Euripidou have been preparing for weeks. The two have been making the pastries for the Greek Festival for more than two decades and they often begin the process about a month in advance. They have to if they’re going to bake thousands of finikia, baklava and kataifi, not to mention the tsoureki or sweetbreads.
“It takes lots of hands,” Paravalos said.
This year, because of the pandemic, they had only a few people baking at one time. They also made fewer pastries because they’re not sure what to expect in terms of attendance.
However, they are still expecting some regulars.
“After 45 years, people know what they’re coming for,” Paravalos said.
“I think the non-Greek crowd is just as avid about the pastries of the Greeks, maybe even more so,” Euripidou said.
Some attendees will gravitate toward the kourambiethes, a short-bread cookie covered in powdered sugar. Others will go for the finikia, cookies made with warm spices and walnuts. Those who can’t decide might want a little of everything, opting for the festival’s pastry sampler.
“We’re going to have both prepackaged and we’re going to have a place where people can come to order them. We wanted to accommodate both mindsets,” Euripidou said.
When it comes to dinner, the options are just as wide-ranging. Attendees can fill up on gyros, or opt for Olympian kotta (roasted chicken with seasonings). Volunteers will also be serving vegan and gluten-free dishes like dolmades and stuffed peppers.
Dinners will be available to-go, so those who aren’t comfortable eating inside can eat under the tent outside the Hellenic Center. In terms of other COVID-19 precautions, each volunteer will be wearing a mask and those who are working with food will also wear gloves and hairnets.
“We are following the CDC guidelines which basically state that if you’re in an area of high transmission then you should be wearing masks indoors,” said organizer Eliana Georgelos, who has been monitoring the changing guidelines. Attendees will be asked to mask up when they’re indoors.
“The worry has always been ‘Is it going to come to the point where we cannot even do this?’ That’s the real concern but so far so good,” Georgelos said.
Festival hours are as follows: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday, Sep. 10 and Saturday, Sep. 11, and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Sep. 12.
In commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of 9/11, the church will hold a memorial service on Friday, Sep. 10 at 5:30 p.m., and a supplication service on Saturday, Sep. 11 at 6 p.m.
The Agora Marketplace will be open throughout the festival, selling arts, crafts and religious items. The St. George Bookstore, which focuses on children’s books and gifts, will also be open.
For more information, visit saintgeorgegoc.com.