The Greek Festival in Oakland Celebrates Authentic Culture
OPA! Greek music and cheers echo throughout the hills of Oakland. The aroma of souvlaki (chicken or pork shish kebobs) and loukoumades (donut holes drizzled with honey and topped with ground walnuts and cinnamon) wafts through the hot afternoon air. The Oakland Greek Festival 2012 finally came around last weekend, May 18-20. This Greek Festival tradition has been kept alive for the past forty years. It serves as a home to the vibrant Greek culture, savory food, and explosive traditional dances within the Bay Area Community.
Food is a very important part of Greek culture. Paul T. Fakaros, co-chariman at the Greek Festival, once said, “We eat when we are happy, we eat when we are sad, and we eat just because.”
The ab-solute most important part is that everyone eats together. The sight of the young cooking side by side with the old truly filled customers with joy.
Yiayias (grandmo-thers), who are usually experienced cooks, offered people homemade spanakopita (spinach pie) along with other favorite recipes and rich dishes from their home land. The tight–knit Greek community urged everyone to truly taste Greece. From gyros, souvlaki, and lamb sandwiches to baklava (filo pastry layered with butter, honey, nuts, and sweetened with syrup), everything tasted exquisite.
Music and dance plays the role of heart and soul in Greeks’ lives. It is no exaggeration that in every second in the Greek Festival, someone was performing to live music, dancing, or entertaining. This included the trained Greek dancers as well as the people casually attending the festival. The dances, as well as the traditional costumes, represent different regions in Greece.
People found it hard to resist joining hands in the circle of dancers, following along to the famous Greek song, “Zorba.”
Academic Choice senior Alice Contopoulos revealed, “I love Greek dancing; it’s so much fun! Greek Pride!”
After cir-cling two or three times, I mastered the steps and became eager to show them off.
Six teams presented Greek folk dance performances throughout the Greek Festival weekend: Anapalis, Nea Zone, Seismos, Astrape, Anemos, and Chrysti Aetoi. The groups are comprised of over one hundred dancers that range in age from five to fifty years old. For decades, all of these award–winning dance groups have competed throughout the United States and finished with countless medals, awards, and special achievements. Many of the dancers started dancing at the age of five and continued throughout their college years. The oldest dancers direct the youngest dancers, and thus new generations of Greek dancers emerge in a cycle.
The Greek Orthodox Church is central to the Greek festival, emphasizing the importance of the religion in Greek culture. Sofo Kyriakopedi, co-chairman of the Greek Festival, stated, “With everything that we do in our lives, the world of the Greeks revolves around our rock,” referring to the Greek Orthodox Church. The powerful yet soothing hymns of the Church are recognizable to the Greeks; many curious visitors were touched by the hymns as well. The Greek Orthodox Church plays an important role in uniting the Greek dance community.
The Oakland Greek Festival is an amazing culinary, cultural, and visual experience. The assumption that “the Greeks are more hospitable than you can imagine” is proven true.
This is an opportunity to enjoy the very best of Greece with natives, friends, and neighbors. Contopoulos indicates, “Although it has become more commercial throughout the years, I believe the festival is an authentic cultural event while not being exclusive.”
The festival expresses the hope that, “you leave feeling a little more ‘Greek’ than when you arrived!”