It has food, it has dancing, and it has orthodox culture. After 50 years, you should know when it’s coming. It’s the Greek Festival.
The Greek Festival is a three-day event, which starts Friday, Oct. 15 and ends Sunday, Oct. 17. The festival includes live bouzouki music, dance performances, and a large variety of food choices and shopping opportunities in the Greek Market.
“The dancing is my favorite part,” said marketing director for the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Maria Weisnicht. “It’s wonderful. The dancers have been practicing since the summer.”
Elizabeth Farsolas is one of those dedicated dancers. She is an assistant instructor and has been a part of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church for the past six years.
Although Farsolas and the rest of the dancers don’t throw dishes on the ground, they do make money.
“A lot of people don’t know that we don’t throw dishes,” Farsolas said about the dances. “One tradition is to throw money, usually dollar bills, at the dancers or put the bills in their headpieces.”
The dances range from fast to slow and the dancers range from the hara, which is the group composed of children from second to fifth grade, and the glenzethes, which is sixth to twelfth graders. For the past couple of years, Farsolas, her fellow instructors and dance alumni do a performance as well.
“Besides the food, the energy of the festival is so powerful,” Farsolas said. “It’s constant fun.”
After the church celebrated its 100th anniversary and after 50 festivals, the Greek Festival hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years, except for the growing number of attendants and events—and now you can even find the church on Facebook.
“I remember when the festival was just one tent in the parking lot,” said co-marketing director for the church, Daphne Pagonis. “Now we take up the entire parking lot and across the street. Hopefully, we’ll continue to grow.”
The festival isn’t just about dancing and people yelling “opa!” The festival is all about traditional, Greek Orthodox culture, and a huge part of that culture is family.
“‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’ was pretty accurate,” Pagonis said. “Greek culture prides itself on family. We like to give Pensacola that same feeling. We want to provide a fun, family atmosphere.”
This festival, just like the culture it’s built around, also prides itself on its set traditions.
“We have our set ways,” said Farsolas. “We don’t conform to new forms of society. A lot of other cultures lose their origin—we never have. Everything is the same.”
To get a deeper appreciation of the church, you can take a 20-minute tour of the church where your guides give you a brief history of the church and of the Greek Orthodox faith.
“We’re not trying to convert anybody,” Weisnicht explained. “We’re proud of our church and faith. It’s a 2,000-year-old religion. We’re just basically sharing our culture and traditions. It gives people insight.”
The Greek Festival is the traditional way that Greek Orthodox churches fundraise. Every year, Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church chooses a charity to donate to. This year, the church will donate to Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida.
“They do a great job taking care of people in need,” Weisnicht said.
The event, which takes about six to eight months to organize, may not change, but that’s what brings people back each year. You can depend on the Greek Festival to provide entertainment and insight.
“Everybody needs to experience Greek culture,” Farsolas added. “There’s nothing like us.”
ANNUNCIATION GREEK ORTHODOX CHURCH PRESENTS 51ST ANNUAL PENSACOLA GREEK FESTIVAL
WHEN: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 15-16, 12-6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 17
WHERE: Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, 1720 W. Garden St.