WEIRTON - The 25th-annual Weirton Greek Festival kicked off on Thursday despite rain storms and the tragic loss of nearly $35,000 worth of food earlier in the month.
Nick Tranto, chairman of the Greek Festival, said the All Saints Greek Orthodox Church community prides itself on the practice of philoxenia, or being a friend to all and during the past 17 days he said the Weirton community pulled together to make sure this piece of Greek and community culture could go on.
Tranto said recent storms short circuited the church's freezers causing a massive loss of prepared food that the women of the church, along with members from their sister church, Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Steubenville, Ohio, worked to make fresh over the past two and a half weeks. He said everything happens for a reason and this tragedy really pulled the community together, something he said the Greeks know all about.
FESTIVAL UNDER WAY — Area residents gathered inside and out of the All Saints Greek Orthodox Church on Thursday for the first day of the 25th-annual Greek Festival. Patrons waited in line to get homemade gyros while listening to traditional Greek music, browsing the market place and enjoying fellowship throughout the evening. -- Angelina Dickson
"The women of our church said 'never underestimate the power of angry Greek women' and this festival's success truly shows what we can do as a community," he said. "We celebrated the spirit of volunteerism this year and I think we've more than shown that."
Tranto said the festival draws approximately 3,000 visitors that many times come back just to work and enjoy the festival. In addition he said the festival raises about 30 percent of the church's annual budget and wouldn't have been possible this year without the help of the extended Weirton community. The festival will be held from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. today and Saturday and marks its silver anniversary this year with a new feature - a market place with items inspired by Greek culture. Those attending the festival can purchase T-shirts, jewelry, religious candles, prayer ropes, coin wrist and anklebands and Greek wedding stephana.
"It is unique in that it is one of the last remaining purely ethnic festivals in the Northern Panhandle," said Tranto. "We are celebrating the Greek traditions of our immigrant grandparents and parents. What we have now are first and second generation Greek-Americans."
The three-day festival features tours of the church, one of the most historical downtown buildings. It is crowned with a stainless steel dome placed more than 60 years ago, when the church was built, something Tranto said could never again be duplicated. He said the iconography throughout the church reflects 2,000 years of Byzantine religious tradition stretching from the Roman catacombs to modern-day churches, noting that the same motifs, characters and placement can be seen in icons in any Orthodox church.
On Thursday, The Ditch stepped out on stage to entertain crowds during the evening rush, something Tranto said he was not concerned over. He said the expected rain would not scare people away because they had prepared for it. He said there would be tents outside covering the seating and indoor air-conditioned seating.
The festival also will feature the All Saints' Patriotakia and Aegean Dancers, two youth dancing groups performing traditional Greek dances. They will perform at 8 p.m. today and traditional Greek music will be provided by The Greek Co. Orchestra, which will be performing from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. today and Saturday.
"We firmly believe that, by teaching our children and grandchildren about our past, we are preparing them for the future," said Tranto. "It helps them relate to diverse groups of people and to respect others' traditions and customs. In order to get where you are going, you need to remember where you came from. This church was built by immigrants, and now we are seeing first-, second- and third-generation."
Patrice Theoeorakis, a Weirton resident and church parishioner, said she has come to the festival every year and has participated in helping in years past. She said her favorite thing about the festival is the food and seeing their traditions continue throughout the community.
"If we don't keep them alive who will?" she said. "We want to continue to honor those who came before us and keep this part of our heritage alive."
In addition to the celebration of the Greek heritage and entertainment, there will be an array of food available. Some popular dishes include grape leaves, rolled and stuffed with beef and rice; spanakopita, spinach pies with fetta cheese and phyllo dough; pastitchio, a Greek take on lasagna; moussaka, an eggplant lasagna; roast leg of lamb; lamb stew; gyros; galatobouriko, custard-filled phyllo dough; baklava pastries; koulourakia, Greek twist cookies; loukoumathes, warm doughnuts with syrup; fish plaki, cod in tomato sauce; souzoukakia, meatballs in a wine tomato sauce over rice; kataifi, a walnut, cinnamon and sugar mix with honey syrup over shredded dough; kourambiethes, butter cookies with powdered sugar; and Greek Easter bread.
Pre-orders for food can be called into (304) 797-9884 or faxed to (304) 797-1725 one hour before pickup. No pre-orders after 5 p.m. Business delivery will be available from noon to 2 p.m. for minimum orders of $50.
Admission and parking are free at the church located at 3528 West St.
(Dickson can be contacted at email@example.com)