Oak Park was turned into a part of Greece for the 46th annual Greek Festival on Saturday and Sunday.
Organized by the Saint Barbara Greek Orthodox Church, the miniature version of Greece attracted hundreds of people for its Greek food, beer, entertainment and culture. Artists and vendors sold jewelry and such Greek pastries as kourabiedes and balava.
Entertainment for children included bounce castles and slides. People waited in lines for such Greek staples as gyros and mezethes, while others enjoyed the music and dancing at the Plaka Dance Stage. Greek music boomed over loudspeakers near the gyro tent.
The festival also had a raffle for a trip to Greece. The festival was closed by a performance of the Synthesi Live Band.
The Greek Festival has a rich history in Santa Barbara. It was first organized by Helen Stathis and other women of the Saint Barbara Church 46 years ago, said Patti Sathis, Helen’s daughter.
“She lived and breathed the festival,” Patti said of her mother’s work.
Taking place the week before Fiesta, there was fear that not a lot of people would attend it.
“A lot of people were in town for Fiesta. It was first a one-day barbecue with games and homemade food,” Patti said, adding that all the food is still homemade despite the growth of the festival.
Originally only one day, the festival eventually grew to two days.
Entertainment included dances by the St. Barbara Zoi and Pnevma troupes, who performed dances originating from Macedonia, Thrace and Pontos. Twelve children were part of the Zoi group. The groups were taught by Helen Ioannides, who also taught Greek Dancing at the festival.
“It’s a lot of work,” Patti Sathis said of the effort to bring these dance troupes together.
She pointed out the diversity of the Greek Orthodox Church. Not everyone is of Greek ethnicity, with several of the dancers in the Zoi group coming from Romania and Bulgaria.
The Greek Orthodox community is not just made up of Greeks, but draws people from all over such as Syria, Lebanon and Russia.
Alexandra Kolendrianos-Ramirez and her brother danced in the troupe when she was a child. Now her daughter is a part of it as well.
“It’s amazing. She loves it. She’s taking over the family tradition,” Mrs. Kolendrianos-Ramirez said.
The children were dressed in traditional dance attire, with red being the main color. The boys wore black caps, a white shirt, a red-and-black vest and black pants. Girls wore red robes and red scarves around their head.
It was Sinna Birdsey’s first year in the troupe, but she already said she loved being part of it.
“I love Helen [Ioannides] and I love making people happy,” she said about her time in the dance troupe. Other dancers, such as Melina Ramirez, Xander Kolendrianos, Eliana Canfield and Stefania Kaerpaekas also expressed their love for the troupe, with each of them saying it was fun to dance in.
When the dance troupe performed early Sunday afternoon, each member was introduced, with the crowd yelling “OPA!” after each introduction. The dancers performed to cheers and live music, whirling in circles to claps and shouts.
This year’s festival co-chairs were Jeffrey Rishwain and John Demourkas. Mr. Demourkas, who also was co-chair last year, has been part of the festival since he was a child and said that the festival was the closest to Greece he was going to get this weekend. He praised the variety that the festival had to offer, such as the drinks, food and entertainment.
“Have a good time. Enjoy yourself and be Greek for a weekend,” Mr. Demourkas said.
The Greek Festival offered something for everyone who wanted to immerse themselves in Greek culture. But it also brings the Santa Barbara community together.
“It’s all done for the love of the church. We’re a part of this community and we also do it for the Santa Barbara community … that’s the beauty of it and you see all your friends. Greeks like to enjoy their life” Patti Sathis said.