Hamilton Greek Fest will be a high-energy festival that combines music, dancing, bouncy castles and face painting. But for most people, the draw comes down to one thing – the food.
The moussaka, gyros, souvlaki and more are what pull in hundreds of people every year, says festival chairperson Angela Mouriopoulos. “I’d say about 80 percent of people who come out are non Greeks and they love the food,” she says, adding that the annual festival now attracts around 5,000 people. Moussaka is a definite crowd favourite, a dish made with eggplant and ground beef, and for dessert there are Greek pastries and Greek coffee. “The gyros have been very popular but people also love the pork or chicken souvlaki and baklava.”
With food as a key attraction, it’s no surprise that the clever motto this year is, “Hamilton Greek Fest – It Comes Once a Gyro.” (By the way, it’s good to know when ordering gyros that it is pronounced yee-ros.) Hamilton Greek Fest is an annual celebration of all things Greek and runs this year from August 17 to the 19 at Inch Park on the East Mountain. As Mouriopoulos says, it’s a wonderful chance for people to learn about Greek culture and for Hamilton’s Greek community to showcase their traditions.
This is the 41st year for the festival, which first started inside the Panagia Greek Orthodox Church, which is next to the park. In the early years, it was a small affair organized by the parishioners. The date was purposely set to coincide with August 15, the Greek holiday of Assumption Day, which is typically celebrated with a community feast, explains Mouriopoulos. Eventually over the years it just evolved into something that includes the whole city. “It’s become a great way for Hamilton’s Greek community to promote their culture in a way for everyone to enjoy. It really gives us a great opportunity to show off our culture,” Mouriopoulos says. She also believes that it’s important for everyone, because Canada’s national identity is so wrapped up in its multiculturalism. “We’re all part of the Canadian fabric and we all come from different ethnic backgrounds.”
The festival’s passion is to be able to continue sharing their traditions, culture, music, food and faith. In addition to fun activities for the kids like a bouncy castle and bubble soccer, there will be an interesting line up of vendors, including a honeybee farmer, dance promoter and live entertainment in the form of a Greek band on Saturday. A DJ will be on hand throughout the weekend providing the music, and on Friday night some parishioners from the church will put on a performance.
The festival has become so popular that it now draws people from as far away as Toronto and Niagara. They have also opened up the event to include other cultures, such as Serbian and Ukrainian dance groups from Mississauga and Brantford. To turn up the energy level, there will be Greek-style Zumba and belly dancing. But even the dancing, music and performances and bouncy castle have a hard time competing with the number one attraction – the food. “If you go around to all the Greek festivals, the first thing we talk about is the food,” says Mouriopoulos, laughing. “It’s just wonderful to be able to do this, especially for the younger generation of kids. It brings more awareness to who we are in our community.”
by Denise Davy
Hamilton Greek Fest