Mediterranean flavor: Santa Barbara Greek Festival off to great start

Above, Thavma, a Greek dance group, performs Saturday during the Greek Festival at Oak Park. Below, religious icons attached to the Evil Eye, meant to protect from negative energy, are offered for sale at the festival.  NIK BLASKOVICH/NEWS-PRESS

Above, Thavma, a Greek dance group, performs Saturday during the Greek Festival at Oak Park. Below, religious icons attached to the Evil Eye, meant to protect from negative energy, are offered for sale at the festival.
NIK BLASKOVICH/NEWS-PRESS

The 42nd annual Santa Barbara Greek Festival opened in Oak Park Saturday and by all accounts it was a success.

The line to the gyro booth stretched long near the entrance, the dance stage was crowded with viewers and participants, the ouzo flowed freely, the food court was packed, the pastry stall tried not to run out of goods, and the sun beamed down, creating a sense that yes, this could all be happening in the Mediterranean.

The economic troubles in the home country didn’t affect this two-day fest that acts as a fundraiser for Santa Barbara’s Greek Orthodox Church.

“It’s the kefi, which means the spirit of the Greeks,” said Patti Stathis, the Festival’s longtime organizer and master of ceremonies. “It makes you want to dance, it makes you want to come and eat. And even though the Greeks are going through some hard times, they’ve got kefi. They are going to persevere through this.”

Greek politics was not really on the minds of most attendees. Instead it was about getting in early for the best selection of baklava, kataifi, kourambiedes, koulourakia and melomakarona, all pastries, all of which are made weeks ahead of time by the church’s parishioners. For many, this fest is the best place to indulge their addiction to the sweet, homemade treats.

Apart from the introduction of large lamb chops to the main food stall’s menu, the Greek Festival is operating on the assumption of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But there was one new element this year, and that was the Rev. Bob Haralambos Fox.

When the church’s previous priest stepped down to take an assignment in Memphis, Tenn., the Rev. Fox of Anaheim was tapped for the position. His first day on the job, so to speak, was the Festival.

An interview was difficult because so many parishioners came forward to welcome him to the community, excited to meet the young, tall man who had joined their church. Even the Rev. Larry Gosselin from the Santa Barbara Mission, who had just come from the Flower Girls ceremony at the Courthouse Sunken Garden, made his way to the park to welcome him to town.

The Rev. Fox spoke to the food court crowd, opening with “Welcome to Paradise!” and explaining the history of the Greek Orthodox church. He invited everyone to attend today’s morning liturgical service in the park, starting at 9 a.m.

“I have ordered up some cooler weather,” he joked.

Returning this year was the Ahepa stall from UCSB’s classics department, which had several professors on hand to explain Greek history and to offer activities for kids, who know their gods and monsters from movies like “Percy Jackson” and “Clash of the Titans.”

Brice Erickson said that the ancient culture still inspires us today. “Mythology is deeply entrenched in modern Greece,” he added.

In the next booth, the Door to Paradise brought items from the church bookshop to sell, from Bibles to inspirational and iconic paintings to soap made by nuns in Northern California and incense from Greece.

The stall is run by Alex and Alexandra Trigonis, and this is their 22nd year at the Festival.

“It’s like a family, and the whole community comes together,” Alex said.

“Greeks love sharing their love, their joy, their zest, their zeal for living” said Alexandra. “They can’t contain it, and they have to share it.”

The Greek Festival continues from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. today at Oak Park. For more information, go to http://www.santabarbaragreekfestival.org/

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