Newport News Greek Festival brings cultural creativity

The semi-annual festival celebrated Greek culture, food and handiwork

During the weekend of Oct. 17-19, Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church sponsored the Newport News Greek Festival for the Newport News community.

We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, and the weather complemented the event well. The air was brisk, yet the sun kept us warm as we made our way to the festival entrance inside the Hellenic Community Center beside the church. 

The wind captured the aromas of the festival’s food—olives, meat and pastries—which only made want to give away our wallets more.

As we walked in, it was noticeable how tight-knit, yet neighborly the festival was. The festival was encapsulated into mostly one large communal room. Tables filled with either food, drinks or crafts gripped close to the walls.

In the middle of the room were long tables that stretched across the room, which added to the community feeling of the festival. It seemed that wherever you would sit, you could end up possibly sitting with a total stranger, but we didn’t mind one bit.

What struck us the most as we turned the corner into the main room where the festival was being held is the geometric designs used in almost every craft that various community vendors were selling.

The designs in each product were intricate and mesmerizing to look at. From ornate jeweled desk lamps to hand-painted salad bowls imported from the Grecian isle of Rhodes, the display of colors and shapes enlightened the dull room. 

Lockets and Christmas ornaments were designed to look like Easter eggs, as they are essential in Greek Orthodox tradition. Each product was unique, which made us want to purchase as many as we could.

As we walked along the trail of tables that lined the main room in the Hellenic Center, we sampled every possible olive oil at Laconiko’s table. Laconiko is known to have award winning extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and they did not disappoint with their wide array of free samples. The large bowl filled with bread pieces to mix with the oils was impossible to miss. More than any other product sourced in Greece, olive oil is linked closely with Greek tradition and culture. By having Laconiko at the festival, Greek traditions were upheld in a refreshing, savory way by having the public try their own taste of Greece.

Regardless of the high prices of most of the jewelry and many of the crafts, we thought it was wonderful to support local shops and vendors. Each shop owner thoroughly explained to us how each piece was special, which is not usually done in chain stores. 

The food served at the Greek festival was traditional, and many familiar dishes could be found, such as pastichio, moussaka and gyros.

Pastichio is a baked pasta dish with ground meat and béchamel sauce, and moussaka is similar, but it includes eggplant instead of pasta. Gyros included freshly roasted lamb and chicken, diced tomatoes, lettuce shreds and tangy tzatziki sauce wrapped in tinfoil to keep them warm. In the food line was rice pilaf and yahni, which is green beans in a tomato sauce, as well as dolmades, which is rice wrapped in grape leaves.

In another room a little off to the side were the desserts. Festival attendees were able to get baklava, a crowd favorite at Greek festivals, as well as other traditional Greek desserts, such as ergolavi (almond cookies) and galaktoboureko (a Greek custard dish). 

They also had dessert packs filled with baklava, kourabiedes (Greek wedding cookies), a butter cookie with almonds, koulourakia (a type of butter cookie that is long and skinny) and finikia (a type of cookie made of grains with almonds in it). 

Loukoumades, which are pastries of deep fried dough covered in honey and cinnamon, were there too. The desserts were utterly delicious, and the lines were long because everyone wanted to get a taste. 

Considering the Greek Festival is sponsored by Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church, free tours of the beautiful worship building were available right next door to the Hellenic Center. 

Before walking into the church, we were welcomed with high arches that radiated a blue hue in its entrance. Greek Orthodox paintings were displayed above the church entrance, which felt very heavenly in comparison to the festival’s more subdued, plain entrance. 

The afternoon sun shone through the stained glass windows of the church and enlightened the gilded tiles on panels depicting Jesus standing up next to the altar.

The Newport News Greek Festival was a lot of fun, with great shopping vendors and food. It’s a little smaller than some Greek festivals out there, but there was a sort of charm that made the festival stand out.

~Ashley McMillan, A&E Editor~

~Shannon Garrett, Staff Writer~

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