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Opa! It's Springfield's 12th Annual Greek Festival

(Poster design courtesy St. Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Church)

"Opa!" New food menu items and a chariot ride for the kids will highlight the 12th annual Greek Festival, September 6-8 on the parking lot at St. Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Church, 4200 S. Holiday Avenue, which is just off West Republic Road, a few blocks west of Kansas Expressway in southwestern Springfield. The three-day event is a traditional family-oriented celebration of everything Greek. Jeannie Duffey spoke about the festival on KSMU's "Arts News."

Duffey noted that Greek culture, food, music and dance seem to be popular with Americans of non-Greek background, but often they don't know much about it. "I grew up Greek, on a street in a little town in Illinois. Later, I realized, people called it 'Greek Street' because of all of my mom's relatives. So it was just second nature to me. But when I got out in the world, I thought, 'Whoa! People like Greek food; people like Greek music. Boy, they want to jump up and dance!' So, okay--let's do it!"

St. Thomas the Apostle is a "very small congregation," said Jeannie Duffey, and she went on to explain in brief about the Orthodox religion. "It's an Orthodox church, which means that it has all different kind of nationalities. In Greece, they have national Greek Orthodox churches. When it goes to other Eastern European countries it becomes Serbian Orthodox, or Romanian Orthodox, or Russian Orthodox." One sometimes hears the umbrella term "Eastern Orthodox." Duffey explained that "it's all the same liturgy, just done in different languages depending on what country it's in." At St. Thomas the Apostle the language, of course, is English, under the direction of parish priest Basil Ferguson. "He's new. He's just delightful, and we all like him a lot. He's never been to a 'Greek Festival' ever, so this is his first time!"
A highlight of every Greek Festival is plenty of Greek food and drink. "When you come through the two Greek columns as you enter from the parking lot, you see a big line of people waiting for food. We have the usual things," said Duffey, such as gyros, souvlaki (sort of a shish kabob, with small pieces of meat and vegetables grilled on a skewer), keftedes (Greek meatballs, usually made with lamb meat), and patatopitakia (a kind of potato pastry). "This year we're adding 'Greek fries,' which Duffey defined as seasoned French-fried potato wedges with tzatziki sauce on the side.

Returning this year is the four-person chariot ride for kids. Duffey said, "We just think that is so much fun. Last year it rained a little, so we didn't get to really try it out." They're expecting dryer (if hotter) weather this time. One of the church's parishioners came up with the idea for the little chariot. "I know adults want to get on it--but they can't! It's too small," said Duffey. Playground bounce houses will also be on hand to keep the kids entertained.

Then there's the "Greek for a Day" photo-op booth, which Duffey said has become "very, very popular. When the committee brought this up, I thought, 'That's cheesy, who would want to do that? Who would want to dress like a Greek? Oh, my gosh!' But people just love it--it's so much fun."

And "fun" is the whole point, she said. "To me, when you say 'Festival,' it's more like a party." And a particularly festive aspect of the weekend is their emphasis on the rhythms of traditional music and native dances of the Greek mainland and islands. "We love to dance!" Duffey said. "Romanians love to dance; Serbians love to dance, Russians love to dance, Greeks love to dance." Attendees are urged to get up and dance to traditional (recorded) Greek music. "The interesting thing about Greek dance is, all you have to do is hang on to the person on either side of you. If you 'get' the step, fine. If you don't? Eh, just hang on! I don't even remember when I learned to dance--it's just one of the things we did, I just grew up with it. It's just a very satisfying thing, with people who are holding hands.  It's kind of a mesmerizing thing--you just keep going. One, two three, kick, kick; one, two, three, kick, kick."

Hours are 5-10pm Friday, noon-10pm Saturday, and noon-3pm Sunday. Admission is free and there is plenty of free parking. Festival-goers will also find plenty of Greek memorabilia and silent auction items donated by local vendors in the Agora tent. Father Ferguson will give brief talks about the Orthodox faith in the sanctuary. Proceeds from food, drink and memorabilia purchases benefit St. Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Church. For information call 882-2789 or visit the church's Facebook page,