Opa! Aromatic, authentic Greek food, upbeat lyrical music, the sound of people laughing and heels clacking against the dance floor — thousands came out to the Albuquerque Grecian Festival over the weekend.
The festival, located in downtown Albuquerque at the Greek Orthodox Church off of High Street, is held the first weekend of October every year. It features traditional Greek food and dance shows, a craft fair, a children’s carnival area, cooking lessons and dance lessons — all with the aim to immerse the Albuquerque community in Greek culture.
Mary Anne Kay, an active member of the community and volunteer, runs a booth at the festival. Kay said she has been doing this for many years and is passionate about it.
Kay runs the deli booth at the festival, which has meats and cheeses imported from Greece. The meat and cheese, she said, is shipped to Chicago and then to Albuquerque.
She also teaches the youngest group of dancers at the church. Dancers, she said, will begin learning the traditional Greek dances when they are only 3 years old, and some will continue well into adulthood.
"I started when I was 6 years old. I myself went through all the dance groups up through college and then became the dance director for a few years. Right now, we probably have 200 kids learning the dances," Kay said.
The festival brings the Albuquerque community together not only to celebrate Greek culture but also to raise funds for charities, chairwoman of the Grecian Festival Diane Kapuranis said. The rest of the money made during the festival pays for any necessary building improvements or church programs.
The Greek Orthodox Church gives some of the proceeds of the festival to two or three charities every year. According to Kapuranis, the festival wouldn't be possible without the support of the Albuquerque community and the work of the Greek Orthodox Church community’s families.
"10% of the net profit made each year goes to charities. This year we will give to the Safehouse, the Storehouse and Leukemia and Lymphoma Society," Kapuranis said.
Over the course of the three day festival, there are 500 four-hour shifts that need to be filled by the church’s community, which Kapuranis described as amazing given that the Orthodox community is comprised of about 200 families.
Almost all the food served at the festival is homemade on-site from scratch, with everything else imported from Greece. The pastries are handmade by community members who learned the trade from generations before. The recipes have existed for hundreds of years and came from Greece, long before westerners moved to the United States Southwest.
"It is very important to us to carry on those traditions and those cultural types of things because it is what keeps it alive," Kapuranis said.
Another aspect that Kapuranis pointed out was that the festival usually spurs some individuals to convert and join the community. She estimated that around 20 people join the community every year.
Megan Holmen is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @megan_holmen