Written by Nicole Breton | Photography by Brewster Burns
The quiet neighborhood surrounding the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, on Hogan Street in Lewiston, comes alive in early September for the annual Greek Festival. Cars line the roads, music can be heard several streets over, and the smell of food permeates the air. A welcoming sense of community is palpable.
Rebirth of a festival
The Greek Festival has been held for decades by the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church. There was a lull of a few years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, according to George Simones, local businessman and pastoral assistant. During this lull, he and some other parishioners attended a traditional affair in the style of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” As they reflected on the celebration, talk ensued about starting the festival again. Within a month, plans and preparations were in place and the tradition began again. This year marks the 17th year since its comeback.
Melissa Landry, in her first year as co-chair for the event, reports over 2,000 people attended this year’s festival. Approximately 75 volunteers run the event, and it serves as the church’s largest fundraiser of the year. Landry reports preparations begin months in advance of the festival, including obtaining the necessary insurance and licenses, marketing and administrative tasks, arranging for the tent and tables, but most important of all, the cooking!
“I think we need to add another oven,” Landry remarks with a smile.
Volunteer Toni Orestis, 94 years young, knows her way around a kitchen. Orestis owned and operated Marois’ Restaurant in Lewiston for 65 years. With the help of former employee Arthur Barnard, and Mike Grimanis, Orestis works nonstop during the festival to prepare the food.
“Most everything is prepared and cooked fresh, except the spanakopita (spinach pie) is prepped and frozen until we are ready to cook it,” Orestis reports. “We don’t stop until they turn the lights out. We’re all from the restaurant business and people who work in kitchens are some of the hardest workers around.”
As one can imagine, feeding the masses is a well-orchestrated feat. The church kitchen sees a flurry of activity, with three ovens constantly ablaze, volunteers prepping salads and pastries, and runners taking the food upstairs to be placed in warmers for serving.
Like Beagles on a scent, folks follow their noses to the food line and peruse the menu to decide what deliciousness they want to try. Some of the favored dishes on the menu are souvlaki (shish-kebob), moussaka (eggplant, hamburg, béchamel sauce), pastitsio (Greek lasagna), Athenian roasted chicken, gyros, fall-off-the-bone lamb shank, the famous spanakopita (spinach pie), Greek salad (with chunks of feta cheese), and a new offering- Greek fries, seasoned with oregano, garlic powder, and other spices, then fried to a golden brown.
Long tables are set up for mass dining. Many patrons sit and enjoy a beverage from the Taverna, offering a wide array of Greek alcohol including wine, beer, and aperitifs. The sounds of traditional and modern Greek music can be heard throughout the festival; folks young and old toe-tap and glide along to the sounds of Greek heritage.
Sweets and such
The pastries at the festival are quite decadent. Baklava, kataifi, flogeres (different variations of filo dough with walnuts and honey), as well as kourambiedes (butter cookies with powdered sugar), and loukoumathes (fried dough balls glazed in honey, made to order) are a few of the sweet treats available. These items are fast movers!
The Treasure Trove area offers gently used items for sale, including furniture, bric-a-brac, books, jewelry, household items, clothing, Greek artifacts, and much more.
Church tours run throughout the day; Pastoral Assistant Simones is ready, willing, and eager to show visitors around and share information about the faith.
The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church started in 1910 on Lincoln Street in Lewiston, to serve the many Greek families who immigrated to the area to work in the Bates and Libby Mills. As Simones explains, “It was believed that America was the land of opportunity and that the streets were paved with gold,” bringing about an influx of folks to the city. At one point, over 3,000 Greek families were part of the church community.
Throughout the years, work at the mills was moved to other states, such as Massachusetts, and some of the Greek people followed suit; this contributed to the decrease of church members to around 135 families in the 1960s. Despite declining numbers, the church remained united and, in 1977, a new church was built at 155 Hogan Road in Lewiston.
Ties that bind
The Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church’s volunteers, as well as the festival-goers, have made it possible for this tradition to continue year after year. With this comes a great sense of camaraderie between the hosts and the patrons, who make their way to the festival each year.
As volunteer and parishioner Roger Park puts it, “The community has really welcomed us. We often see the same folks attend the festival each year, as well as many newcomers.”
It takes many pieces from a greater whole for the festival to come to fruition each year, and the Greek community has proven they have the fortitude to progress. From the younger generation shuttling folks back and forth in golf carts, to a different generation committed to tradition, this annual festival is sure to remain popular for years to come.
Mark your calendar for next year’s festival, always held the weekend after Labor Day. The event takes place rain or shine at the church. Admission and parking are free.
Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church
155 Hogan Road, Lewiston • lagreekfestival.com