The Saint George Greek Orthodox Church gave a hearty “Opa!” as it welcomed Knoxville to its 42nd Annual Greek Fest this past weekend.
Located at 4070 Kingston Pike, Greek Fest took place on the church grounds, filling up the entirety of its space with booths, tables, tents and a dance floor, with a live band.
They hosted the festival to share the Greek Orthodox religion and Greek culture with Knoxville. It started on Friday, Oct. 1 and ended on Sunday, Oct. 3. People continued to visit as the days went on, arriving on school bus shuttles from designated parking areas.
This year’s Greek Fest was a return to form after last year, which changed the festival into a drive-through format due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, they were able to do a more traditional Greek Fest.
The festival acts in part as a fundraiser for the church itself, but they also plan on giving a portion of the funds they receive to charity. They also work with the homeless, offering food supplies at least once a month even outside of the festival.
Greek Fest takes a long time to plan. Chairman of the planning committee, John Corum, spoke about planning for the Greek Fest each year, adding afterwards that it’s a “total relief” once the festival is underway.
“It’s a massive chore to put all the pieces to the puzzle together, meaning the suppliers that you have to be in communication with ... the bands and foods and all that stuff is a massive job,” Corum said. “Usually, I start in February planning and contacting people, especially suppliers, to lock us in, so that we don’t come at crunch time and not have that supplier.”
Part of this supply appears within the booths that line the perimeter of the festival. Each booth held a different purpose, selling various foods or drinks. Part of the church building also housed vendors selling jewelry, towels, bags and pillows, just to name a few.
As for the food, several dishes and sweets could be found. Inside, they sold pre-packaged pastries like baklava, sweet bread, finikia and almond crescents by the box. They prepared around 10,000 pastries for this year’s festival.
In the outside booths, they sold Greek pizza, souvlaki, baklava sundaes, tiropita and a gyro and chicken dish. There was also a variety of Greek wine and beer sold. These booths are each run by a different family within the church.
The Dixon family ran the souvlaki tent. Christina Dixon spoke about her experiences with Greek Fest. She has helped with the festival for several years. Dixon now helps run her family’s booth, having previously danced in the festival since elementary school until she graduated college.
“I love the energy here, every single year,” Dixon said. “It’s always new people, same people. Everyone here who’s working is always so energetic about everyone that comes, and there’s just a great family atmosphere. And I love the food.”
Outside of food, one of the first booths that greet people past the admissions table was the t-shirt booth, which features a new design each year. Zena Jones, co-chair of t-shirts, talked about seeing everyone who joins in the festivities.
“It’s wonderful,” Jones said. “It’s so nice seeing everyone coming back out after a year of not having our traditional Greek Fest.”
She talked about her specific booth, where they look over sales data to figure out how many shirts to make and what designs to try. While running this booth, she talked about what she likes most about serving as a volunteer at the Greek Fest.
“I think the fellowship and being able to share the culture and the food and fun with everyone in the community,” Jones said.
Part of the festival included different church aspects, primarily a tour and two services. The tour consisted of an overview of the Greek Orthodox religion as well as the establishment of the church in North America, concluding with an opportunity to look around the church. The services included a Paraklesis and Vespers service.
Dancer Lygia Karagiozis spoke about the different services, and she also performed during the dance shows as part of the older group.
“Vespers is traditionally the first service in the daily cycle of church services because the liturgical day begins in the evening rather than the morning. While Paraklesis is a service that is meant to act as a supplication for the living,” Karagiozis said.
The Paraklesis service involved Byzantine chants and prayers, and the Vespers took place on the second festival day.
The festival featured several dance shows starting on Friday evening through the rest of weekend. There were two main dance groups: the high school group and the young adult group, mostly college dancers.
They both did a variety of dances, showcasing all parts of Greece in each dance. The high school group wore more traditional dance costumes, whereas the older group wore more formal attire.
Both groups performed different dances, all with a dancer leading the line. The older group demonstrated some elaborate dances, with complex movements and a higher tempo. One leader even jumped into the air at different points.
The dancing wrapped up the festival, entertaining the mass of people that had accumulated throughout the day. All parts of Knoxville came out to this festival, to enjoy the food, culture and atmosphere that encompassed the church.
Co-chair Mike Nassios gave a final comment on the 42nd Annual Greek Fest.
“We want to thank you for coming and thank you for the Knoxville community for coming and supporting us,” Nassios said. “And thank you to the members of the community that worked really hard … to put this event together.”