The seventh annual Central Georgia Greek Festival promises to be bigger than ever this weekend.
Organized by Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church on First Street, this year’s festival will feature live music, dancing, art, church tours, more vendors and a wider variety of authentic Greek fare.
Emily Dermatas has been a member of Holy Cross for 36 years. She and other members have been preparing the church and cooking food for weeks to feed the thousands of visitors expected at this year’s festival.
“We made like 3,000 stuffed grape leaves, just to give you an idea,” Dermatas said. “My dining room is full of cookies. Last week, at my house, we made 1,200 twisted butter cookies.”
Dermatas grew up in North Carolina, where her mother immigrated from Greece. She learned to speak Greek before she learned English.
“We really are proud of our food because being Greek American, being born to a Greek home, we have some of the best food,” Dermatas said. “We have some great recipes from two women that are from Greece.”
Dermatas said the authentic foods at the festival, such as spanakopita, pastitsio and dolmades, come directly from Georgia Saratsiotis, a member of Holy Cross and a Greek immigrant. Most of the pastry recipes come from church member Mina Stewart, also a Greek immigrant.
“Our food is very rich (with) lots of wonderful tastes,” Dermatas said. “In our pastries we like to use lots of butter, lots of real sugar. There’s no diabetic recipes in Greek cooking, other than our salad. So you have rich flavors of honey, sugar, butter, a lot of nuts.”
Dermatas said heartier dishes contain flavors of spices, onions, grape leaves, rice, chopped parsley and dill.
There also will be imported Greek wine, Mythos beer and ouzo, a popular liquor that is made with grapes and tastes like licorice.
A troupe from Marietta’s Hellenic Dance Program also will take part in the festival, performing traditional dances from different regions of Greece as well as demonstrations of dance styles over the past century.
“If a great song comes up, we’ll leave our booth and our tennis shoes and apron, and the spirit will move us and we just start dancing,” Dermatas said.
Greek dances are not like typical American dances.
“One of the largest differences is we dance in a circle with an end and a beginning (and) a leader,” Dermatas said. “One of the things about the Greek culture is that when people dance ... it can be all women, it can be all men, it can be a mix. It can be old, it can be young.”
Though she said Macon has a small population of Greeks, Dermatas remarked that the festival attracted more than 5,000 people last year.
“For myself, and many that started the festival, we really wanted to show people our religion, our Greek Orthodoxy, our faith,” Dermatas said. “We were one church until 1054, the Great Schism, (when) the west went Catholic and the east was Orthodox. We’ve kept the same traditions for thousands of years.”
In addition to dancing, eating and buying Greek merchandise from vendors, Dermatas said she hopes people will take advantage of the church tours, learn about Greek Orthodoxy, and perhaps consider joining the congregation for worship.
“Just try new things,” Dermatas said. “You might like it, you might not, but at least you can see that there’s different stuff.”
When: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Oct. 17-18 and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Oct. 19
Where: Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Church, 859 First St.
Cost: Free to attend, food is extra