LEWISTON — Lewiston-Auburn Greek Festival goers were treated to traditional Greek food, song, dance and tours at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church at 155 Hogan Road on Friday and Saturday.
The nearly endless menu included spanakopita, pastitsio (Greek lasagna), souvlaki shish kebob, Athenian roasted chicken, fasolakia and moussaka. While perusing the agora (open market space), food cart-style gyros and revidokeftedes (Greek falafel) were available along with pastries like baklava, flogeres, kourambiedes, and, crowd favorite, loukoumathes (Greek fried dough).
The festival is one of the first of its kind in New England said co-chair Jaye Mendros Goulet. It began in 1978 as a three-day event and, though the festival changed many times in years since, it’s just as wonderfully chaotic. Goulet said her father was among the group that started the festival.
“The lamb was so popular, I can remember the men having to go out to just about every grocery store in Maine. They would have to cut and marinade and skewer into the night for the shish kabobs to be ready,” Goulet said. “Then the women would have to drop what they were doing during the day to make meatballs. They were always running out.”
The festival had a couple one-day events between 1986 and 1990 and then the Church got involved with the Great Falls Balloon Festival until about 2003 when they went back to a two-day festival at the church, Goulet said. This is the second festival the Church has put on since 2019 due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Festival co-chair Melissa Simones Landry gave props to Central Maine Healthcare which made music available for the first time in about 15 years. Music included a solo performance, a four-piece band and dance group Sons and Daughters of Alexander who performed in traditional Greek attire.
As the only event in the area where “being Greek” is celebrated en masse, it is a fun time to get together and renew excitement about the culture, Landry said. There are pockets of Greeks and those of the Greek Orthodox Church, Landry said, and many travel from as far as Waterville to worship. A big influx of Greeks in the early 1900s helped fill the local wood mills and many have since converted to the faith as the mills closed or scaled down. Greeks moved southward where mills were still open and large parishes dwindled, but the four churches in Maine — including Bangor, Portland and Saco — remain strong, she said.
Volunteer coordinator Elena Vayanos, born to a Greek family and raised in the church, said tradition and the strong community behind it holds a person to the best version of themself.
“What I see is a (parish) full of people who believe, but who come for different reasons,” Vayanos said. “I grew up in a church that was very Greek. They held liturgy in Greek and of course I didn’t know what was going on, but I liked listening to the hymns and I always felt God with me. It wasn’t until I had children that I grew in my faith because I want to give that to them. I love being here. I feel good here.”
Father Anastasios Bendo said his church is his and every parishioner’s spiritual family.
“Agape,” he said. “It’s an open embrace, community love. This church is a loving family.”
Goulet said one of the most important parts of Greek culture is hospitality and that is why the festival is so natural for the church.
“We want people to come embrace our culture, our food, our traditions and experience. For us, our culture and our heritage bring us together and our faith unites us. Our faith unites us.”