It’s “Opa!” time as the 36th annual Taste of Greece festival returns Oct. 4–6 at St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church in Chandler.
Melding the traditions of ancient Greece with today’s culture, the church campus located at 2716 N. Dobson Road becomes a Greek village, welcoming 10,000 guests for the celebration with Greek foods, live music, costumed folk dancing, imports, vendors and a Kids Fun Zone.
More than 300 volunteers, mostly church members and fellow Greek churches in the Valley, will tend 15 food booths serving 32 dishes.
They will also help guests at the sports bar and the “agora” marketplace, which features arts and crafts, Greek imports, jewelry, CDs, books and icons. And they coordinate the advertising, publicity and other festival duties.
The food is prepared by highly experienced food volunteers.
Favorites include dolmathes, grapevine leaves stuffed with ground beef, seasoned rice and herbs; spanakopita, thin filo dough filled with spinach and cheeses; and pastichio, “Greek lasagna,” baked macaroni and ground beef covered in béchamel sauce. New this year is calamari, a Greek specialty.
Attendees can also enjoy Greek pastries such as baklava, filo dough filled with nuts and spices; kourabiedes, a rich, shortbread-like cookie covered with powdered sugar; and loukoumathes, pastry puffs sweetened with honey and sprinkled with cinnamon. Baklava cheesecake is debuting this year.
These and other Greek foods will also be available to take home.
Greek music will continue to serenade foodies this weekend. There will be folk dancers from various age groups in authentic costumes from Crete, Thrace and Epirus. Dance workshops are also scheduled.
“From the spanakopita to the stitching in the Greek dancer’s costumes, we are a telling a story which allows our children and neighbors to sample our Greek culture, hospitality and faith,” said Nicolette Wright, a member of the church who tends the gyro booth during the weekend with husband Todd.
“The festival is our opportunity to proudly showcase our traditional Greek menu, music, and dances and to strengthen our bonds and relationships with our friends, family, and neighbors,” added Vange Archuleta. He has volunteered since 1985 and chaired the event for seven years.
Dimitra Attwood, coordinated volunteers this year and explains, “Greeks love to share their love for food, hospitality and community, so being able to share that is a beautiful feeling.
“When you go to a Greek’s home, you will have a new best friend, learn so much about their heritage – and will never walk away hungry.”
The festival satisfies other needs, too. Most importantly, it ensures the continuity of centuries of traditions.
For Wright, it’s an opportunity to celebrate Greek heritage with the community and share the culture with her children.
“As we work the booth all weekend long, we still take necessary breaks to watch our 6-year-old son participate in Greek dance,” she said.
“It’s increasingly more difficult, generation after generation, to preserve this (culture) if you didn’t have the influence of the Greek Orthodox Church and the opportunity to celebrate Greek culture each year,” said Wright, whose great-grandparents were one of the first Greek families in Arizona.
Their children – Wright’s grandparents – attended Greek school every day after traditional American day school, but they didn’t require a formal Greek school environment for their children, Wright’s parents.
“Generation by generation, we are assimilated more into the American culture, so as parents we need to be more purposeful in how we make time to pass down our Greek traditions and heritage,” said Wright.
Wright also directs the church’s Sunday school ministry and is a member of St. Irene Philoptochos, a charitable society of the church.
Attwood’s volunteers range from 6 years through 90.
“We even have some awesome middle school parishioners who have taken it upon themselves to set up a table in the Kids Zone to paint fingernails for a donation,” she said.
Both she and husband Kevin grew up at St. Katherine. His late uncle, Father Sam Poulos started the parish and baptized her.
“I learned how to Greek dance at a very young age and loved every bit of it. Learning the choreography and that each dance came from one island or another and being able to wear the costumes and learning what island they were from gave me such a sense of pride for my heritage,” she recalled.
“Now I get to see my own kids learn all the same things and even wear some of the same costumes that I wore when I was a kid,” she said, noting that all three were dancing before they were born, including her 4-year-old twins:
“Even being 34 weeks pregnant with twins couldn’t stop me from being out on that dance floor during a Greek festival!”
The twins have attended Camp Agape, partially funded by the St. Irene Philoptochos society. The camp caters to families dealing with childhood diseases.
Archuleta’s parents immigrated to Green River, Wyoming; he worked with the Union Pacific Railroad in the mid-1900s and sent for her mother to join him in the late 1940s via a letter to Greece.
Green River had no Greek festivals, “but a close-knit community of Greek families maintained the traditions of the Greek culture through our church, celebrations, strong bonds and deep pride,” she said.
In 1985, her daughter, Dr. Stacie Eskew, a Gilbert optometrist, and son, Adam Archuleta, the ASU football star, NFL player and now CBS sports analyst, moved to Chandler.
As soon as they arrived, the family joined St. Katherine.
Since 1985, many of the festival leaders have passed away, and the current average age is over 75.
“It is imperative for our younger generations to step up and work hand in hand with our leaders to continue the traditions that have been set forth by generations,” she said.
Archuleta has five grandchildren, and her staff is assisting with the next generation as well.
The Wrights, for example, are expecting their third, which should make a quorum to assume all of the gyro duties at future A Taste of Greece events. “One day,” she said with a smile, “the booth will be run by the whole family.”