Sunday, August 28, 2016

Indy Greek-Fest 2015

My grandfather on my mother's side was Greek - Nickolas Harakas, actually from the "old country", but we never knew him. In fact, my mother never knew him, but of course, knew of him and the Greek side of the family.  Unfortunately, grandma was only married to him for about five years because he passed away at a very young age leaving my mother and grandmother with very little of the Greek family influences. Grandma eventually remarried the only father that mom ever knew and grandfather that we ever had - coincidentally, also an orphan named Herschel E. Greene. He was a great man, to all of us and the best crappie fisherman of all time, IMHO.

Growing up, I met the Greeks very few times, but I was aware that this family branch existed and took a small amount of pride in the fact that I was part "something" recognizable. To many Americans - 400 years since the Mayflower - bloodlines get mixed. In a way, very similar to mixed breed dogs like the Cocka-poo - part cocker spaniel and part poodle. Although we could never interview these lovable animals, we'll never know in which of their mixed breeds they took the most pride in being. Doggies are just happy to find a family that loves them. Aren't we all like that?

That being said, we were raised as the proud, flag-waving Americans that we were born to be. Of course, my grandmother knew she was born in Adair County, Kentucky - on Lawhorn Ridge - her family name. It was a migration destination of a group of Scots-Irish/English and probably Cherokee Indian somewhere along the line. My genetic father was never in the family picture, but my step-dad was and he was a great guy, too. We were a hodge-podge family with shallow roots, but we did our best to get along in life - absorbing the teachings of our forefathers - wherever they came from.

My mother's grandfather - Grandpa Harakas (Nick's father) was a member of the Indianapolis Greek Orthodox Church and when he passed away at the age 87, his funeral was held there at it's former location on North Pennsylvania Street. Greek life centers around their church and American Greeks are no different. In 2008, the church moved to a grand new facility in the Carmel area on Indy's north side. When I used the word 'grand', it was surely an understatement. After all these years of wanting to attend the annual GreekFest celebration, last year I finally made it there. I went all three days of that weekend. Sadly, I didn't get to go this year because it rained so much.

There was a huge crowd to visit this spectacular church grounds at GreekFest 2015.
It is not my intention here to explain the differences between Greek Orthodox and the Roman Catholic branches of Christianity, but there are many. . To satisfy your intellectual curiosity, you are welcome to investigate the "Great Schism of 1054".  Let's just say, from what I've been told is that Greek (Eastern) Orthodox is the closest thing to "original" form of Christianity from it's very foundation in the First Century A.D. and worship services are performed in Greek as the Catholics did in Latin.

I arrived early to GreekFest and got a great parking spot. Admission is free, but you do pay for parking your car in the field behind the church. Before the evening was done, there still would not be enough parking spaces unless someone decided to leave. This event has been going on for decades and is a multi-cultural event in that all kinds of people - from various ethnic and religious backgrounds attend to sample the Greek culture in dance, music and, of course, great-smelling food.

Greek Warrior and ol' Jim.
This Greek warrior was guarding the gates to the food court where the perfume of grilled meats, pita bread, "Loukoumandes" Greek donut holes made with honey and walnuts -  and other delicious foods. The music was pre-recorded, but an authentic band of Greek musicians were coming in from Chicago to play for us later tonight. Of course, there will be dancing, colorful costumes and lots of people.

This Greek musician was puzzled why I took so many pictures - just so I could get this one.
Of course, with music comes dancing. The church does a lot to further the Greek culture to their American-born people. Of course, along with Greek language skills, there are the dancing, cooking and lifestyle influences. Make no mistake, these are Americans first - Greek by blood and they're proud of both.

Just a hint of the attendance at this huge event as Junior High School-aged dancers begin their performance.
The next day, I talked to my daughter about coming out with me. I thought that since she was doing a family history research, it might be nice to add a little Greek color to her findings. She brought the girls, too. I enjoyed their company as I usually attend things on my own.

Daughter Jennifer, granddaughter Brittney & Zane, The Greek, Paige (high school freshman) and me.
The girls came out on Sunday, but by then almost all the food had been sold out. We wandered the grounds, watched some dancing and of course, they did some shopping. There was plenty of pre-recorded music going, until the band came back at 1:00 pm. I bought a Greek warrior t-shirt for my brother that said, "You can always tell a Greek, but you can't tell him much." That pretty much sums up my brother, Dave. The girls bought a little waist sash. Later, they would model for me. They have fun wherever they go.

As cute as they are in their new "jingle sashes" I wonder if they ever wore them again.
The Greek youngsters performed for the crowd including these two cuties. They were so sweet. I had to get a picture while they waited for the rest of their dance class and for the music to begin.

The dancing started with the younger age groups and progressed to the high school students, who clearly had the most training and the more difficult dances to perform. This girl was a regular spark plug for her class. She also had the world's brightest smile. You know she was having a good time.

I really liked all the performances of the dancers. Later, the adults would dance, but they just wore their street clothes, but had just as much fun. Combined with huge multiple tents of diners there was still a standing room only crowd for the dance performances - all day long.

I took a tour of the church which wasn't much of a tour - just a visit to the large, circular sanctuary - but was accompanied by the priest who explained about the arrangement of the church and the many, many frescoes on the ceiling and walls of the church. These are very expensive to produce as they must be done by artists who paint other Greek Orthodox churches all around the world. The are called iconography and visually tell the stories of the Holy Bible and New Testament - the Greek versions. They are done in the same Byzantine-style as the early paintings so that any visitor to any Greek Orthodox church will recognized them.

Of course, this is Christ surrounded by the saints at the very top of the building looking down on us all.
As I was raised Protestant, this practice was very different to me, but I found just being in this church - even with a mixed crowd of believers of other faiths - very moving, inspiring and reverent. The idea of being in church is to be in a place which brings your soul closer to God. I could definitely feel it here. I bought a candle and said a prayer for a very ill friend back in West Virginia. The customary belief is that your prayer will continue to repeat itself over and over as the candle burns down in the hope that something good will come of it - fostering the faith that it will.

As I am primarily a still photo shooter, I had nearly forgotten that I had my Kodak Pocket Video camera with me. It does a so much better job than any cell phone camera - especially in low light situations. I wanted to get some video of the high school class and their dancing with the Greek music. It seemed like each song of Greek music has a different dance associated with it. I could not confirm this, but I thought this dance was particularly complicated. I have two left feet anyway - especially for this kind of fun. I shot this video and I'm glad I did.

In 2008, I went to another Greek Food Festival in Clarksburg, West Virginia and shot other video of some of the Grecian Odyssey Dancers out of Pittsburgh. I thought this dance was interesting.

I'll leave you with a shot of the first time I tried to learn Greek dancing. The woman to my right surely had sore ankles following my attempt. I usually kicked when I should have stepped and stepped instead of kick. Awkward - even for someone only partially Greek, like me.

Jim tries Greek Dancing at St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church - Greek Food Festival in 2008.
It was very awkward for me, but I vow to try it again, sometime. For now, it's time for a Gyro and fries ... I wonder if the Greek restaurant down the road is open today. I think they probably take Sundays off. I'll go tomorrow.



  1. Everybody has a good time at Greekfest - just like what I've seen on travel shows. The Greeks love to celebrate life every day.