It’s All Greek To Me

Ellie Tomasson, Chief Managing Editor

Each Labor Day weekend for the past 98 years, tucked away in the Central West End, St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church throws St. Louis’ largest ethnic festival. The event takes place in and outside of St. Nicholas church and lasts for 3 days.

As I walked under the main tent of the festival, I was hit by the hot, dense aroma of Greek food. To my right, volunteers dished out spanakopita, gyros, moussaka, baklava, and every imaginable Greek delicacy to the eager customers. To my left, a skillet of cheese erupted in flames to make a saganaki, flaming cheese.

CHS sophomore Sam Nakis works at the saganaki booth at the festival with her dad. She has been involved with the festival for about 5 years helping out in any way she can: from grilling pita, to dishing out spanakopita, to setting cheese on fire.

I pushed my way through the crowd of people. On the other side of the tent, group of children and teens, dressed in traditional Greek garb, dance.

CHS junior, Katina Massad, has been dancing in the Greek Festival for 8 years. Massad’s grandparents emigrated from a tiny village in northern Greece by the major city of Thessaloniki.

“I was baptized here. This is my family church. My grandma goes here. My mom goes here. They were wanting people to build up a dance troupe, so my sister, my mom, and I all dance here every year.”

The dancers have to endure blazing temperatures while dancing in heavy clothing.

“We wear long-sleeved satin dresses with a velvet red vest with embellishments all over and a velvet hat that matches the red jacket. And then we change into our fishermen costumes for the Zorba because we’re supposed to resemble fishermen in Greece, so we wear the long black pants with the button-up shirt, a necktie and a sash. They are all made in Greece” Massad explains.

“Every Labor Day weekend is always the hottest of the year. It really gets overwhelming, but you just carry on anyways. It doesn’t matter because you have so much fun doing it,” Massad explains.

Each of the dances is traditionally from Greece and has its own story behind it.

“We do a freedom dance for the Evzones, and we do a war dance. Our choreographer Georgia Johnson is from Greece, so she goes there sometimes and brings back new stuff for us to learn.”

Although it is Massad’s last year being a part of the troupe, she hopes to continue her dancing throughout her life.

“I want to come back and dance as much as I can because this is what I want to do. This is my passion: dancing.”

Outside of the main tent, there are several smaller food stands serving more Greek desserts. One stall dishes out the indescribably delicious Baklava sundaes, which consist of soft serve ice cream topped with Greek honey syrup and sprinkled with filo pastry flakes and crushed walnuts. Another, doles out Loukoumades: fried balls of dough drenched in cinnamon, honey syrup and topped off with crushed walnuts.

Behind the Loukoumades booth, CHS substitute teacher Liz Glynias works frying the delicious doughy balls.

“It’s the size of a donut hole, a beignet flair, a funnel cake feel, but better than all of those things mixed together. It’s covered with a cinnamon honey syrup and sprinkled in crushed walnuts,” Glynias explains.

Glynias works with her 84 year-old mother, making the Loukoumades for the festival all day in the sweltering heat.

“My mother has been [making Loukoumades] with the ladies here for over 20 years,” said Glynias.

Glynias and the other women had to make the outdoor kitchen in which they fry their confections from scratch. Glynias worked continuously for a month to construct the kitchen and prepare for the festival.

In addition to helping with the Greek festival, Glynias also plays an active role the philoptochos, an organization to provide for the philanthropic needs of the community.

“It’s the ladies auxiliary of The Greek Orthodox Church of America. In St. Louis, our philoptochos works with hundreds of organizations. I’ve been president of [the philoptochos] for 8 years in the past. I’ve just been involved since I was born,” said Glynias.

Glynias has been involved with the church for her whole life.

“My mother would bring me as a baby. We were all married here. I was married here. My parents were married here. My sisters and brothers were married here. My children have been married here. It’s a very family traditional church,” Glynias explained.

Her parents were born in a village in northern Greece near the Albanian border before emigrating to America in the mid 1940s.

“My mother came when she was about 14 years old. It was right before the war broke out. She likes to tell this story that when the Germans came to case the land to use their little village as a lookout point. They used my mother’s home, which was the largest home at the time, to be the headquarters for the general. My mom was crying because her dad had two white rabbits that were pets for her, and the general saw them and ordered them to kill the rabbits so his troops could eat meat. We didn’t have meat that often in those days,” Glynias said.

“Her dad, my grandfather, had been over [to America] many times. He had his oldest son with him until he had enough money to send for his wife and his two children, and so, my youngest uncle was born here in St. Louis,”

Glynias, herself, was born in St. Louis.

“[My parents] had seven children; I’m one of seven. We never ever ate in a restaurant when I was growing up. We walked to the grocery store because we didn’t own a car,”

Greek is the first language of Glynias and her family.

“I didn’t really get into English until I was in kindergarten. I remember coming home and saying to my parents ‘You know, I don’t know this English very well and I want to do well in school, so I’m not going to talk to you in Greek anymore. I’m going to talk in English. You can talk any language you want to me, but I’m going to talk in English’ That was my decision,” Glynias explained.

Each of Glynias’ five children went through the Clayton school system. Glynias did her student teaching at Demun Elementary, now Captain Elementary. She worked under Ralph Captain the first day the school opened. After having children, she stopped teaching full time, but still works as a substitute teacher for the district.

The festival is a fun, and delicious, display of Greek culture that is definitely worth a visit.