The Big 4-OPA! The Greek Fest New Orleans Celebrates 40 Years!
40 years of Spanakopita, Souvlaki, Baklava, Dolma and Gyros on Bayou St. John. Oh, and we can’t forget the Greek music and dancing… OPA!
That’s right, it’s been 40 years of celebrating Greek culture and heritage (and shouting OPA!) on Bayou St. John.
The New Orleans Greek Festival making history this year is appropriate, I think. Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral boasts the oldest Greek Orthodox congregation in the United States. The church was originally established in 1866. To put that date in context, 1866 was the year after President Lincoln was assassinated. Next year the congregation will celebrate its 150 year anniversary.
One of the highlights of the festival each year is the cathedral tour, where visitors are invited inside the beautiful church with its Eastern-styled domes and artwork. During the tour, the pastor explains the various icons and other religious artwork, as well as discusses the unique approach to worship shared by the Orthodox around the world. I am Roman Catholic, and I can say that the beauty and holiness of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral is palpable. You feel it when you walk through the doors.
Another special treat that you get as part of the cathedral tour is the chance to hear the Hellenic College Holy Cross seminarian chanters who chant a few hymns in Greek and English.
More than a Church Fair… The Greek Fest Celebrates Faith and Hellenic Culture
As a Catholic living in south Louisiana, I am very familiar with church fairs. With such a large Catholic population in Louisiana, it’s easy to find church fairs peppered all across the state, from New Orleans to Lake Charles… and even “up north” in Shreveport.
In essence, the Greek Fest is the “church fair” of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral. But, it’s also more than that. Over the last 40 years it has become an cultural and culinary icon in New Orleans.
From the live Greek music provided by Greek band Alpha Omega! out of Atlanta, to the Hellenic Dancers who perform various traditional Greek dances in traditional garb, the Greek Fest beckons you to join in the fun and shout OPA!
Of course, one of the biggest draws to the Greek Fest is the food. What most folks don’t know is that all the food is prepared by the parishioners. Over 150 lambs are slow-roasted on spits over the course of the weekend. Over 20 different traditional Greek pastries are available… all made by hand by a small army of volunteers.
What’s on the Menu this Year at Greek Fest NOLA?
There is lots on the menu every year at the Greek Fest. But here are some of our must-have favorites: the Gyro Sandwich, Roasted Lamb (pictured above), Fried Calamari, Feta Fries, Greek Salad, Traditional Greek Dinner (which includes tiropita, spanakopita, pastitsio, meatballs, and a Greek salad with dolma… which are stuffed grape leaves), Goatburgers.
Ouzo and Greek wines from Anastasi Estates are available by the glass or by the bottle.
Abita Beer is served on tap.
For a cooler treat, you can try the delicious Pomegranate Iced Tea, Snowball, and Daiquiri Drinks. The pomegranate has long been a Greek symbol of abundance and good luck, and it is featured in three refreshing drinks this year.
The Greek Festival Is Fun for the Whole Family
With a nominal $5 entrance fee – and free entry on Sunday if you wear a (modest!) toga, and children under 12 get in free all weekend – you get to enjoy fun in the sun with Greek music and cuisine. You can shop for Greek groceries (like cheese, olives, and spices) in the Agora, and you can learn to dance like Zorba.
There are canoe rides on Bayou St. John, and a kids area called the Athenian Playground, complete with face-painting, crafts, inflatables, and a chance to climb Mount Olympus!
Free parking is available at John F. Kennedy High School, and the festival provides free shuttle service from the parking lot to the main entrance gate and back.
James Michalopoulos is the artist for the 40th Anniversary Festival Poster. Copies of the poster will be for sale at the festival.
The New Orleans Greek Festival will be open the following hours this weekend:
Friday, May 24, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Saturday, May 25, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sunday, May 26, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
More information about the festival – including directions – can be found on their website: GreekFestNOLA.com.
I hope to see you there!
Here’s a video I produced about the Greek Fest a couple of years ago… Enjoy!