Be Greek for a Day

August 21, 2008 Updated: August 21, 2008

In Massachusetts, June is the most popular month for these outdoor cultural events—you can easily find four or five Greek festivals in different communities to go to on any given weekend.The weather warms, flowers bloom, and you are drawn outdoors—sure signs of summer in the Northeast. And as summer approaches, so does Greek Festival season. The unmistakable aroma of roast lamb wafting on the breeze and the mesmerizing sounds of bouzoukis mixed with laughter, cheers, and joyous applause means it’s time to brush up on your Greek. 

In Massachusetts, June is the most popular month for these outdoor cultural events—you can easily find four or five Greek festivals in different communities to go to on any given weekend. Some communities in New England, however, get a jump on things by holding their annual festival in May while others go as late as October. If you are traveling or live in other parts of the country, there’s no shortage of Greek festivals.

These festivals are run by the local Greek Orthodox churches, and often last for several days. Going to one is almost like being in Greece. You can enjoy the live entertainment and authentic foods that are prepared and served by tireless volunteers. The extra bonus is knowing that you are helping the local church.  

These events are great family happenings, with entertainment for kids as well as adults. Most enjoyable are the mouth-watering Greek delicacies—people come for miles around just for the food. There’s everything from Greek salad (with olives, feta cheese, and garlic dressing) to souvlaki (roast pork on a skewer), to spanakopita (the renowned spinach pie made with filo dough and feta cheese)—it’s hard to decide. And don’t forget the pastitsio (a macaroni and meat dish similar to lasagna) and moussaka (a layered eggplant casserole).

If you can’t make up your mind, have a Mezethes plate—which is a Greek pu-pu platter of sorts—consisting of appetizers like meatballs (keftedes), stuffed grape leaves (dolmades), olives, feta cheese, pita bread, and a yogurt-garlic-cucumber dip called tzatziki.

As you’re eating, you can hear Greek music on a nearby stage and see some Greek folk dancers in traditional costumes performing dances from different regions of Greece. You get a sense that being Greek is as much a state of mind as it is a nationality. It’s the history of a people who go back many centuries and who seem to enjoy life to the fullest.

Many of these events usually have an Old World agora or marketplace of Greek vendors who sell unique, handmade items from Greece for you to discover. You can find jewelry, wool caps, woven blankets and bags, and much more.

Then there are the famous Greek pastries—sold as single pieces for you to enjoy right away or packed in containers for you to take home. Greek pastries are time-consuming to make, so they sell out fast at these events. They are lovingly made by church members, and the recipes are usually handed down in families through the generations.

The most famous Greek pastry has to be baklava—a layering of phyllo, ground nuts, and butter, which is drenched in a honey syrup. Another favorite is kourambiedes, which is an almond- or anise-flavored shortbread cookie dusted with powdered sugar. Galaktoboureko sounds like it’s out of this world—and it is. It’s a milky farina custard baked inside a wrapping of filo pastry … and soaked in syrup.

Words just don’t do these creations justice. You’ll just have to visit a Greek festival and try them out for yourself. You’ll be entertained as well as amazed by the culture of what it means to be Greek. And at the end of the day, you can honestly say it’s not all Greek to you.