A chariot ride for the kids is the newest attraction at the 11th annual Greek Festival at St. Thomas the Apostle Orthodox Church, 4200 South Holiday Avenue in southwest Springfield this weekend. The three-day event is a traditional family-oriented celebration of everything Greek. Jeannie Duffey, a parishioner at the church, visited KSMU again this year to talk up the Festival and its features this year.
“We’ve done it so long that we just have it down pat, but we always have other ideas and new things to add. One of our folks in the Greek Festival, Tom Letchworth, last year said, ‘How about a chariot ride for the kids?’ And we said, ‘Whaaat?! Tom, if we do this, we will be the ONLY Greek Festival—and you know there are lots of them all over the country—that’ll have a chariot ride for the kids!’ And darned if he didn’t do it. We’ve got it out there ready to go... and we’ll see.”
Weather permitting, of course... “Little umbrellas over the little kids, maybe? We’ll figure it out.” As for as the rain threat this weekend, “We’ve been lucky all these years. Maybe our luck will hold. We have tents—way big tents. And, you know, we can dance anyplace. We’ve been dancing on the parking lot of this church for 10 years, and we can keep on dancing.”
In addition to the four-person “chariot” ride which will lead children around the church property, there will also be face painting and playground bouncers to keep the young ones entertained, and the popular “Greek for a Day” photo op booth, a dress-up activity for the entire family. Also, Greek memorabilia and silent auctions items donated by local vendors in the Agora tent.
Greek foods and beverages? Definitely! Jeannie Duffey made sure to mention some of the Greek food items that will be available, especially saganaki, Greek flaming cheese: “You pour ouzo on it, then you light it on fire, then you yell ‘Opa!’, then you douse it with lemon juice and eat it with pita bread... and it is the best stuff! People love that.” She also mentioned vasilopita (Greek New Year’s bread). Also this year, they’ll prepare the Coffee Ethic’s Greek coffee in the authentic, traditional way: by warming up the water for the coffee in sand.
Duffey places a special emphasis on the Greek native dancing and traditional music that are offered every year at the Festival. The church parishioners will provide a mixture of various kinds of Greek music. And as to whether the Greek dances have to be taught or prompted, Duffey says, “Well, you know what Greek dancing is? You hold hands, you’re in a semi-circle. There’s a leader. As long as you hold on and just keep on going, it’s--we just like to see people dance. It’s a very positive, happy thing, and you forget any troubles you had, trying to concentrate and not fall over your feet, that sort of thing. But I’m a big proponent of dancing. I think any dancing you do is good for the soul.”
Father Andrew Moore, the church’s parish priest, will again give brief talks about the Orthodox faith in the sanctuary. Father Andrew’s talks are always popular each year, says Jeannie Duffey. “It (the Orthodox faith) is not something people always know about around here. St. Thomas the Apostle only has about 75 families in its parish—“it’s very small,” says Duffey, “so it’s just amazing that we put this on at all”-- let alone for 11 years. “People are enthusiastic about it. It’s not just Greeks, you know; there’s Romanians, Russians, some recent immigrants, some not—all kinds of people there. That’s what I enjoy about it. ‘Orthodoxy,’” she adds, “is an umbrella for Russian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, in each of those countries. It’s eastern European, that’s what it is.”
The number of visitors to the festival each year is hard to track, but Jeannie Duffey estimates it at up to five thousand—“which is really good for us. It’s like a party.”
The festival will be held on the parking lot of St. Thomas the Apostle Church on Friday, September 7, from 5 -10 p.m., Saturday, September 8, from noon to 10 p.m. and Sunday, September 9, from noon until 3 p.m. Admission is free and there is plenty of free parking. For information, call 841-8586 or visit the Festival’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/opagreekfest/.