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What Is a Greek Festival?

By Laura Metz
Updated May 23, 2024
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A Greek festival is a celebration of Greek culture usually organized by local congregations of the Greek Orthodox Church. These festivals feature traditional Greek music, dancing, and food, as well as cathedral tours and shopping. Many festivals are held in Greece; these are called by specific names such as Apokreo and Okhi Day. Heritage festivals are also celebrated in the U.S. and around the world.

Most Greek festivals are organized through the local Greek Orthodox Church, and the proceeds are traditionally donated to charity. While a few are free, most require small admission fee. A Greek festival may last just day or up to a full week. During the festival, most transactions are done with special festival tickets instead of money.

The highlight for many guests is the traditional Greek food available, prepared by church members, local restaurants, or catering services. Menus typically include gyros, moussaka, souvlaki, and baklava, as well as beverages such as bottled water, soft drinks, beer and even wine. A few festivals even offer drive through service for those who are not able to attend the festival.

Traditional Greek folk music is typically performed live for much of the festival. This music features the bouzouki, a string instrument similar to the mandolin. Unless a specific group is performing, everyone is encouraged to dance. Many festivals offer free lessons in a few traditional Greek dances, such as hasapiko, better known as "Zorba the Greek," pentozali, or kalamatianos.

Several performances are often scheduled throughout the Greek festival. Both adult and children’s dance troupes may perform in traditional costumes. A few festivals even have belly dancing performances or dramatic presentations, such as excerpts from ancient Greek dramas or enactments of ancient myths.

Since Greek festivals are usually organized by a Greek Orthodox congregation, they typically open the cathedral for visitors. Some festivals advertise guided tours every hour. Lectures, movies on church history or doctrine, and choir performances may also be scheduled during the festival.

Almost every Greek festival maintains a shopping area, typically known by the Greek word for marketplace, agora. One booth may sell clothing, bags, shawls, and jewelry, while another may offer Greek cookbooks and ingredients or paintings and photographs. Souvenir items with the logo of the Greek festival, such as shirts, hats, and mugs, or figurines of ancient Greek gods may be available.

The larger Greek festivals sometimes maintain a children’s area with inflatable bounce houses, face painting and other activities. Occasionally Greek cooking lessons, foot races, or raffles may be scheduled. Since parking is often inadequate, some festivals provide free shuttle service from distant parking lots.

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