It’s hard to believe that the sleeper hit, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” was released 20 years ago. While it is a fictional story, there are themes that shine true to Greek culture. If you can’t make it to Greece this summer, going to an NJ Greek festival is as close as you’re going to get.
As a lifelong member of the St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church in Randolph, New Jersey, our yearly festival is a celebration of our heritage that we get to share with people of all nationalities and religious backgrounds. From authentic Greek food to traditional line dancing and more, if you hang around long enough, you’ll feel like family.
With something for everyone, here are nine reasons why you should visit your local Greek festival this summer.
1. Bring your appetite for endless Greek food.
You don’t need to pronounce gyro (yee-ro) the correct way to enjoy one with extra tzatziki sauce on top. The food is authentic, as many members of the church volunteer in the kitchen all weekend long of the festival using recipes that they grew up with.
2. Greek dancers leave it all on the stage.
From elementary school children to adults, Greek dance groups will perform their routine throughout the weekend and they don’t disappoint. As a Greek Orthodox American, line dancing is a rite of passage in Greek culture. Usually, the last performance of the night will end with hundreds of dollar bills on the floor and everyone joining the line.
3. Did somebody say ouzo?
For those 21 and over, make sure to stop by the bar and order a shot of ouzo. It’s the official liquor of Greece and the only way to fully enjoy it is to yell ‘opa!’ upon consumption.
4. Frappe’s that aren’t from a chain restaurant.
After drinking a Greek frappe, you might not be able to enjoy coffee the same way again. Originated from Thessaloniki, Greece, a classic frappe includes iced coffee blended with milk and espresso–necessary for a hot summer day.
5. Greek music!
Although you might not understand any of the words, you can feel the passion from the singers and the live band. Instruments may include a bouzouki, kanonaki that are native to the homeland.
6. Top it off with loukoumades and baklava ice cream.
I hope you save room for dessert because Greek delights are some of the very best. A twist on the classic treat is baklava ice cream, which includes the flakey and honey-covered pastry sprinkled on top of vanilla ice cream. Loukoumades, best served hot and balls of dough with honey and nuts drizzled.
7. Mati “evil eye” jewelry for any occasion.
Besides the food, dancing and games, vendors will sell products from apparel to paintings and everything in between. Be sure to check out jewelry including Greek-owned Mati Jewels with handmade pieces incorporating the signature Greek mati.
8. Church tours with beautiful iconography.
Church tours are offered by parishioners to share more about the Greek Orthodox religion including a closer look at one-of-a-kind iconography. Most of the icons you’ll see are hand-painted.
9. You might just win a brand new car!
During festival season, many churches have a yearly car raffle to raise money for their parish. If you can’t make it to the festival, you can still buy tickets curbside. St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church in Randolph is raffling a Mercedes C300 4Matic Sedan that could be yours!
Here’s a list of upcoming Greek festivals in New Jersey:
Kimisis Tis Theotokou (Holmdel, NJ)
Ascension Greek Orthodox Church (Fairview, NJ)
Saint George Greek Orthodox Church (Clifton, NJ)
St. Andrew Greek Orthodox Church (Randolph, NJ)
Ss Nicholas Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church (Roseland, NJ)
St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church (Toms River, NJ)
Have you been to a greek festival in NJ? Let us know in the comments.
About the Author/s
James Barrett is a freelance journalist covering everything from travel, interviews, personal essays and entertainment. He's a Syracuse University alum and New Jersey native. You can subscribe to his free weekly newsletter at jimmyrox.com.