THE SAVANNAH GREEK FESTIVAL is one of our most beloved harbingers of fall no matter what your heritage is.
Now in its 69th year, this labor of love by the congregation of St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church satisfies attendees who are new to town, or those who have attended every year for decades.
One of the core tenets of the Greek Festival seems to be, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The successful formula of tasty food, Greek music and dancing, and Mediterranean merch never changes much.
This year, Festival Chairman Tommy Danos simply promises that the Festival will be “bigger and better, with lots more food. Lots more food!”
The food is the thing, whether you stand in line for a plate in the Hellenic Center gymnasium across the street from the church, or order online for drive-thru pickup in the lane.
It’s prepped, baked, and cooked by the hands of dedicated volunteers from the congregation and community.
In years past, many a Savannah office worker ordered from the Festival via fax. Today of course, that’s mostly done online.
“The online ordering is working out great. It’s very smooth now. You order and pay online and come pick it up,” says Danos. “It’s perfect for people who don’t have a lot of time to get their fix of Greek food from the Festival.”
Because of the extraordinary longevity of the event, and its closeness with the congregation itself, local Greeks literally grow up serving various roles in the Festival.
One of the most popular features are the three Greek folk dance groups, representing different age groups.
Tommy Danos’s family is a perfect example.
“My youngest daughter started out in Ta Pedia, the children’s group, with her cousin. When she turned 13, she graduated to the GOYA group (Greek Orthodox Youth of America). She’s 28 now, and dancing in the adult troupe, Zoe,” he says proudly.
While the vast majority of folks come to the Greek Festival for the food and the fun, scheduled tours are given of the recently restored sanctuary of St. Paul’s across Anderson Street.
The Greek Orthodox church – part of the larger Eastern Orthodox faith – is rapidly expanding its ranks beyond those of Greek heritage. This includes the new parish priest of St. Paul’s, Father John Wallace, who is a convert to the faith.
Danos has a theory as to why people are turning to Eastern Orthodox churches.
“A friend and I have been running these Spartan races. It’s sort of a combination marathon and obstacle course. It’s incredibly challenging, but people are looking for a way to test themselves. We like a challenge – it’s part of human nature,” he says.
“It’s the same participating in the Eastern Orthodox faith. It’s not a spectator sport. You kneel, you stand, you take communion, you fast. You have to be engaged with what’s going on,” says Danos.
“And of course, people are also drawn to the reverent, ceremonial nature of the services.”