Annual Greek festival engages all of the senses

One of the most prominent features of Cleveland’s annual Greek Festival from Aug. 23 to 26 is the music heard from a few blocks in either direction of Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Mayfield Road. When you walk towards the cathedral, the source of the music, Greek bands, comes into view.

Once you reach the crowd, you see another highlight of the festival: a group of dancers. The dancers are young members of the cathedral who dedicate their time to mastering the intricate steps of cultural dances that connect them to their roots, countries away.

Surrounding the group is an array of white tents with giant text advertising the food under each roof. The mouth-watering aromas hover like a cloud over the lot and flood into the cathedral, where the other half of the festival activities are housed.

Upon first entering, you come across additional food that ties the outdoor and indoor festivities together. Some of the featured dishes from Greek cuisine include pastitsio, moussaka, spanakopita and tiropita, perfectly complemented by what seems like an endless supply of sweet Greek delicacies such as baklava and finikia, a butter cookie soaked in honey and topped with nuts. If one dessert does not satisfy your cravings, there are free cooking classes, where you can learn how to replicate classic dishes in the comfort of your own kitchen.

After indulging in all the food you can eat, you can explore the hallways of the cathedral, which are lined with rooms open for festival attendees. Each room houses shops selling a variety of imported Greek jewelry, artwork and ceramics. Aside from perusing the variety of options, you can use the opportunity to engage in a chat with one of the knowledgeable parishioners working the station, who may be from Greece or have a travel tip to share with curious listeners.

Former youth dancer Christina Kerner is one member who shares a connection to Greece and her culture through the cathedral. Kerner’s mother’s family is originally from Crete, Greece’s largest island. After being baptized as an infant, Kerner began participating in the annual dances at the age of 10. She danced with the cathedral for seven years. Despite living away from home for her college career, she still returns to the festival each year.

In the second set of dances each evening of the festival, the senior dancers perform a dance called “Horos tis Mahis tis Kritis” or “The Dance of the Battle of Crete.” Her family’s Cretan roots draw a personal connection between her and the performance. Her best memory of past years’ festivals is getting to wear the red Cretan costume for the first time, as it is reserved for the older, more experienced female dancers.