A YEARLY labor of love of the congregation of St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Church, the Savannah Greek Festival is now marking its 64th edition.
Held across the street from the church in the Hellenic Center, the Festival always attracts big crowds eager for music, dancing, drink, shopping, and most of all, delicious food.
Here’s a Top Five list of most noteworthy things about this year’s Big Fat Greek Party:
5. Most Notable New Menu Item
While Savannah will get the same delicious Greek dishes we’re used to enjoying at the Hellenic Center every year, there’s one big addition this year sure to excite any Hellenophile: Moussaka.
A particularly Greek version of a traditional Middle Eastern dish, Moussaka layers eggplant, tomato, and meat for a particularly rich and savory treat. While other cuisine traditions serve the dish at room temperature or even cold, the Greeks like to serve it as hot as you can stand it.
Moussaka at the Greek Festival will be $5 per serving and no doubt well worth it.
4. Best News for Car Lovers
A lot of folks seek to avoid the often-long lines for food inside the Hellenic Center and employ the tried-and-true drive-thru option. This year Greek Fest drive-thru is offered all three days of the Festival, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday.
3. Most Impressive Dancers
Let’s see, you’ve got the adult troupe Zoe performing Thursday at 6:30 p.m., Friday at 6:30 and 7:30, and Saturday at 12:30, 2, 5, 6:30 and 7:30. They're a mostly female group tending toward the peaceful traditional women's dances of the villages.
Then you’ve got Ta Pethia, the little kid's dance group, unbeatable for sheer cuteness and great photo ops. They perform 6 p.m. all three nights.
Many folks enjoy the teen GOYA (Greek Orthodox Youth of America) troupe, which tends to feature more young male dancers. In Greek dancing, the flashiest moves are reserved for the boys, with the best or most athletic male dancer usually leading the circle. They perform Thursday and Friday at 5:30 and Saturday at 4 and 7 p.m.
But the best dancer is undoubtedly YOU. Between dance performances anyone can get out on the floor and dance to the music of visiting band Grecian Echoes.
2. Most Iconic Reason to Take a Church Tour
The Eastern Orthodox Church claims the oldest Christian tradition in the world, with liturgies and traditions going back to the very first rituals of Christianity.
That said, the best reason to tour the historic St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church is to see the beautiful renovation of the sanctuary, focusing on the traditional icons which are central to Greek Orthodox services.
Contrary to some misguided opinion, the icons themselves aren’t worshipped. Rather, they are revered as representations of the saints and other religious figures depicted, “windows into heaven.”
Icons have their own intrinsic language. Highly symbolic and stylized, they were originally intended for medieval congregations with low literacy to be able to immediately recognize the figure depicted. Icons are now regarded as great repositories of art and culture, and they’re fascinating regardless of which faith tradition you’re from.
Free guided tours of the church are offered Thursday and Friday at 6 and 8 p.m., and Saturday at 1, 3, 5:30 and 8 p.m.
1. The Most Important Thing To Know About the Savannah Greek Festival
Festivals put on by Greek Orthodox congregations do big business all over the country, and are smash hits from Atlanta to Richmond to Boston to L.A.
But Savannah’s is one of the most unique in the country, because all their dishes are still cooked from scratch by the congregation themselves.
Other festivals long ago made the move toward prepackaged Greek dishes from third-party vendors. But not St. Paul’s.
Volunteers from the congregation, often older women, work on the recipes and dishes for most of the year, beginning in late spring and working straight through to the week of the event.
It’s in the spirit of these dedicated older yiayias that the Festival is held, and it's this fact that makes the Savannah Greek Festival truly special and one-of-a-kind.