I was recently invited by a friend to go to a local Greek festival on the weekend. Unlike seemingly most college students, my weekend life was just as eventful as my weekdays (so not that interesting). So, I thought it would be a nice change of pace. Since I didn’t have anything else to do that day, I essentially spent all morning preparing myself.
My friend (a young Greek woman) had been telling me and my other friends all about the traditions she’s been a part of as well as the delicious food we’d been missing out on. She told me there would be traditional dances, music and, most importantly, food. After hearing her sterling recommendation (and knowing I would be fed), I was excited to go.
So, I drove to where the festival was being held, and it was packed. I don’t know why I thought it would be a humble affair (the word festival never struck me as a big thing), so I was a bit shocked. I was probably the youngest person out there, outside of the kids who were brought along and some teenagers. I came mid-way through the event, so some people were walking back to their cars, and almost every one of them had grocery bags full of plates.
As I got closer to the main area, I heard the soulful and spirited rhythm of Greek music grow louder and louder. As the volume increased, I found myself feeling lighter as well. That is until I saw a tent and a cash box…
Wait, we have to pay to get in??
My nerves shot up, and I frantically texted my friend and asked her what the deal was. I don’t say I’m a broke college student to fit in; my pockets are as deep as a kiddy pool. After waiting for what felt like hours anxiously next to the entrance, she soon reassured me that it was free entry and that she would walk me in.
Finally, I calmed down after seeing her waving me down, and she finessed me in while the older women heading the cash box were distracted. (It turns out they were just there for donations). Just as we walked in, my friend was rushed by some older women who were family friends. You would think everyone there knew each other, and even if they didn’t, I never once felt out of place.
As our journey through the festival continued, I encountered Greek cuisine staples like baklava and was blessed to have loukoumades, which made me transcend my earthly form. But of course, the food was amazing, and even though I didn’t buy much else, there were a wide variety of authentic Greek wares being sold as well, like hand-carved crosses and goods stamped with the “evil eye” (a popular charm in Greek culture meant to stave off negative energy).
Near the end of my time at the festival, my friend encouraged (more like peer-pressured) me to join her in one of the group dances under the main tent. She insisted that it was a simple dance, but all the rhythm I had left my body as soon as I got to the dance floor. As embarrassing as it was for me to stumble around among a circle of professionals, I had a good time.
After catching my breath from a deceptively easy-looking dance, my friend then brought me into the church that stood stoically next to the boisterous festival. As we entered the church, I noticed a distinct energy shift. There was a stillness in the air that one rarely feels in a bustling world. The deeper we got into the church, the more I felt at ease. I looked around to see saints gathered on the walls. They were painted in such a way that it felt like a glimpse into the distant past. I couldn’t help but be in awe.
I can undoubtedly say that my time at the Greek festival was unforgettable. I encourage those reading this to attend a cultural festival if you can. It opens the mind and lightens the heart. There are few greater experiences than being introduced to another culture. I’ve found that it’s a celebration that will stay with you for decades to come.