The unmistakable sounds of Greek music and the tantalizing smell of gyro meat on the grill filled the air in Auburndale last week as St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church celebrated its 39th-annual Greek Festival.
The event was a huge success, organizers said, due to the wonderful weather and outpouring of support from the parish and local community members.
Featuring Greek vendors, a wide variety of food and drink, games, dancing, traditional music and an unparalleled setting for local Greek Americans to mingle and catch up, the community looks forward to the event every year.
Reno Gerogiou, a member of the church for 48 years, said he did more than just hope for a great festival.
“It’s perfect weather. I prayed every day for good weather and miracles happen to believers,” he said. “The purpose is to help the church financially and to have people get together and celebrate the culture. There’s a lot of people who see each other here who might not have seen each other for months, maybe even a year.”
The festival, which lasted from last Thursday through Sunday, is the congregation’s largest of the year. Located at 196-10 Northern Blvd., the congregation itself is the biggest Greek Orthodox church in North America in terms of membership, with more than 2,000 families, according to festival raffle chairman Nick Kokis.
“It’s a celebration of our Greek culture, our Greek heritage and our religious heritage. We’re a very proud people and we’re here to celebrate our culture and display the beauty of our church and our religious beliefs,” he said. “The response has been very positive. Even in a down economy, people are coming out in droves.”
Bayside resident and church member Mary Saketos brought her granddaughters Marisa, 10, and Constantina, 8, out to enjoy the festival. She said the event is a unique opportunity to share the history of their people with the younger generation.
“We’re enjoying it because it’s our Greek culture, our Greek heritage and I’m trying to pass it on to my grandchildren,” she said. “And it has a little bit of everything.”
Between 5,000 and 6,000 people flock to the event every year, according to organizers, and some come from several hours away for its offerings.
Steven Stephanides came from Peabody, Mass., to attend the fete and bring the Greek Orthodox youth basketball team he helps direct down to participate in the annual tournament held at the event.
“It’s a community thing. It’s another way of getting kids together and getting them to help out. We all work as a family, all one, in our parishes,” he said. “It’s great to see how the young kids all work here, cooking and helping. They’re the future of the parish.”
Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cn