New Orleans was founded by the French, governed for forty years by the Spanish, and was also settled by large numbers of Germans, Italians, Irish and those of African-Caribbean descent. But the city also has a sizable population of Greeks, and every year descendents of one of the Western world’s oldest cultures celebrate their heritage with a festival celebrating all things pan-Hellenic.
Anyone who saw the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding knows the Grecians love to party and celebrate (as well as brag about) their glorious history. Here in New Orleans it happens every year during Memorial Day weekend at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Robert E. Lee Boulevard adjacent to Bayou St. John.
As you enter, you may be pleasantly greeted with a “Kalos Orisate” (ka-los-o-REE-sa-te), meaning “Welcome” in Greek. From there the lively sounds of Greek music and the wonderful aroma of Greek food in the air will also greet you.
Aficionados of souvlaki, baklava, dolma (stuffed grape leaves), spanakopita (spinach pie), and gyro sandwiches (pita bread pockets stuffed with lamb, pork and zesty sauce) will find more than their share of it -- and more -- at the New Orleans Greek Festival, where dozens of unique food specialties are served up. Fans of Greek music, especially the distinctive sounds of the bouzouki guitar, will find more than their share of that too, as Hellenic dancers in colorful native costumes sway to the driving rhythms. Before long, you, too, will be shouting “Opa!” like they did in the movie’s wedding reception scene.
There is entertainment for all ages, from kids’ activities to fun things for the adults to do, like dancing or renting a canoe to ply the serene waters of Bayou St. John. Lucky winners of random drawings may win trips to Greece and the fabled Grecian isles of the Aegean and Mediterranean seas. Those who wish to take something Greek home with them can purchase the latest festival poster or other souvenirs and handcrafted items.
The cathedral houses what is reported to be the first and oldest Greek Orthodox congregation in the United States, founded in 1866. Visitors may tour the ornate structure with its magnificent, Byzantine-style dome. Frescoes and stained glass windows in the distinctive Eastern Orthodox artistic style greet the eye in every direction one looks. Some visitors have likened it to touring an art museum.
The cathedral and festival site are located at 1200 Robert E. Lee Boulevard, New Orleans. Donation is $5 -- children under 12 admitted free. Free off-site parking and shuttle service is available.
For more information call 504-282-0259 or visit their website at www.greekfestnola.com.