With only leftovers and memories as reminders of this past weekend's 33rd annual Greek Food Festival in Boise, organizers are already looking to 2015 for the 34th edition.
Cars packed the streets and bicycles the sidewalks in and around Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, and planners say an average of 7,000 attendees fill the block each year.
But it takes weeks of preparation to bring the festival together as nearly all of the food is handmade from scratch.
Attendees grabbed plates of souvlaki, gyros, pastitsio, salad and spanakopita, which they washed down with glasses of Greek wine or local beer as they swayed to the tunes of live Bouzouki music, performed by the Chris Dokos Band, who traveled up from Salt Lake City just for this festival.
Sts. Constantine and Helen was built in 1947, having bloomed from the small, but united Greek population in Boise at the time.
But even after the church was built, Boise didn’t have a Greek Orthodox priest for many years. Instead, once a month, a priest from Pocatello would come over to do a service. The idea of starting a Greek festival came from the desire to share the culture, but also it’s a way to raise money in order to support having a permanent priest for the church in Boise.
“[The festival is] necessary for us,” said Konstantin Rickford, a church parishioner and festival volunteer. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the festival.”
The Greek community in Boise wasn’t very large at the time, but their faith brought them together. The orthodox faith is an integral part of the Greek culture.
“It’s the foundation, it’s so interwoven it’s like a fabric,” said Stacie Dagres, daughter of Helen and Frank Dagres, who are founding members of the church. Though the faith is a strong part of the community, many of the younger generation Greeks are taking different paths. Dagres converted to Buddhism in 1988 and her brother and sister are no longer strong participants in the Orthodox church. However, leaving the faith doesn’t mean leaving the culture entirely.
“I’m finding some people from my generation, particularly who are embracing a different spiritual path, we’re still embracing the parts of the culture that speak to us and that we love.”
Dagres and her sister continue to volunteer at the festival each year.
“In my instance, I’m pursuing a different spiritual path, but this is always home,” Dagres said.
Lilly Collias and her husband, John, are both first-generation Americans, their parents coming from different cities in Greece. Both of them contributed to the creation of the church and the festival.
“Each generation has a more difficult time to keep the traditions, they get a little watered-down,” said Lilly Collias. “There isn’t a large Greek community, there never has been, but now there is even less.”
Lilly is 89 years old and John is 96; they’re not sure how many more festivals they will see, but they’re hoping the traditions will continue.
“We’re just another culture, we like to hang onto some of the traditions,” John Collias said. “We’ve had children, but some of them have inter-married and they’ve lost some of the old traditional ways and we, as the older people, try to at least make it part of our lives and maybe their lives.”
As younger generation Greeks leave the church, it is creating more room for other nationalities to become involved.
Rickford and Virginia Hayes are both parishioners at Sts. Constantine and Helen, and neither of them are Greek, but they both found an accepting community with the Greek Orthodox Church after visiting other congregations, including in Rickford's case the Russian Orthodox Church.
“The community here is much stronger, it’s much more developed, it’s much warmer and friendlier and more to the point,” said Rickford on the Greek church. “I felt like I had a home and a place.”
Hayes reinforces this sentiment. With a German father and French/Italian mother, Hayes is far from being Greek, but the community has welcomed her with open arms.
“I think that’s the wonderful thing about the Greek Orthodox Church, they are very welcoming,” Hayes said. In fact, there is such a diverse demographic of parishioners at the church that during services, the "Our Father" prayer is recited in seven different languages, including Spanish, Arabic, Russian and German.
“Originally the parish was founded by Greek people, but that has changed over time to become much more international,” Hayes said.
The Orthodox faith is something that spreads across borders.
“Each nationality has their own culture that they teach to their children, but we are all united by the Orthodox faith,” John Collias said.
Even the kids who participate in the Greek dancing during the festival are from a variety of cultural backgrounds.
“Our dancers, we don’t have many kids of Greek descent, everybody has sort of grown and left, but through the years they’ve brought in friends and so we have a multicultural group of kids here that have learned how to Greek dance,” said Demetrios Kinnas, one of the current co-chairmen of the festival.
To help accommodate the amount of work necessary for the festival, volunteers from Life’s Kitchen have joined in this year on the preparation.
“Our community is getting older, we’re seeking help and we were introduced to Life’s Kitchen last year,” Kinnas said. “They come with open arms and I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done.”
The festival is truly a multicultural event and continues to support the diverse, yet devout group of parishioners at Sts. Constantine and Helen, along with providing the community a weekend of delicious treats as the summer festival season kicks off.