Who doesn’t want to “go” Greek at least once a year? The music, the food, the costumes, the food, the dancing, the food!
Portland’s Greek Festival celebrated its 62nd year this month with a three-day party that is one of the region’s most beloved and joyful civic events and one of the largest Hellenic festivals in the country. According to festival organizers, more than 15,000 guests join the parishioners of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Northeast Portland to extol all things Greek, particularly the cuisine. Whether it’s the Sunday kota riganati dinner, gyros, soulvaki, spanicopita or the irresistible pastries, it is practically impossible to leave hungry.
Forks in hand, guests sit in the autumn sun watching costumed children dance hand-in-hand to Greek folk music, or gather in the taverna for a glass of wine or beer. A tour of the Cathedral brings a quiet appreciation for Orthodox Christianity, the oldest Christian tradition. The characteristic icons that adorn the Church are described as “windows to heaven” and teach parishioners about the lives of Christ and the saints.
The magic word of this festival is philoxenia; in English, hospitality. According to Vasilikis Vlahakis, who has been a part of this event since its beginning, hospitality, family and faith are the touchstones of Greek Orthodox culture. The first Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church of Portland was founded in 1907 on Southeast Taggart Street. When the Cathedral was built on Northeast Glisan in 1952 it came with a mortgage. The women of the parish held a bazaar to raise money and what was once a small church event is now a celebration of “philoxenia” and the church’s signature fundraiser, supporting both the parish and philanthropic efforts in Portland.
So how do you know if you are Greek? According to contemporary Greek lore you know your are Greek if…
- You had more than 28 people in your bridal party; or
- You have been lectured on the importance of olive oil and the medicinal effects of lemon oil; or
- You can dance to the kalamatiano, tsamiko or zebekiko without music.
Still not sure? Make certain to attend the 63rd Annual Greek Festival next October. For those three days, everybody is Greek. Opa!