Gyros, crafts and more: Tucson Greek Festival celebrates Greek culture in the community
Volunteers fry cheese for the saganaki dish at the annual Tucson Greek Festival on Sept. 23.
The Tucson Greek Festival has been operating at the Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church for the past 41 years and continues to offer the local community traditional Greek meals, live music and handcrafted, Greek-inspired jewelry and artifacts.
Merilee Pallack, a third-year volunteer and church attendee at Saint Demetrios, said most Greek Orthodox churches hold annual Greek festivals around the country because it is a traditional event for the Greek Orthodox church.
Anastasia Tsatsakis, the co-chair of the annual Tucson Greek Festival, said she has been a part of the event for about four years and has been involved in putting together festivals all her life.
"Volunteering at the festival is a very positive thing because we help a lot of people and we are able to bring the Greek tradition and food to the community of Tucson," Tsatsakis said. "It's something we hope we can continue with and make a positive impact on the community."
Tsatsakis said the most popular traditional Greek foods offered at the festival are gyros, Greek lasagna, Greek salad, calamari, lamb and Greek fries.
"At the festival, there are foods for everyone with any type of palette," she said. "The specialty desserts are the focal point of the festival, which includes the popular baklava sundaes."
Maria Blake, a University of Arizona graduate and Greek tutor at the UA, was seen handling the plentiful desserts inside the church facility.
"Baklavas are always the favorite, and they are made with phyllo dough, crushed walnuts, syrup with honey, sugar, water and butter," Blake said. "The syrup is made to make the dough more tasty and soft."
In addition to baklava, the tents were filled with a variety a freshly made dessert treats like melomakarona, kourambiedes and almond cookies.
Blake said the food is made by volunteer Greek women cooks at the church. The desserts are made in the church kitchen, though they buy certain desserts from a local Greek restaurant.
While traditional Greek food is an important part of the Tucson Greek Festival, the festival also held tents of handmade Greek-inspired items, such as jewelry and wooden figurines.
Kathy Richards, the creator and owner of the jewelry brand Beyond Bella, also attended the fair and sold her handmade jewelry there.
According to Richards, she first launched her brand with a table in Long Beach, California, at a Greek Orthodox church. Now she continues to sell her jewelry at other Greek churches, such as Saint Demetrios in Tucson.
Richards said the evil eye design is the most popular item she sells.
"According to our Greek culture, the evil eye pendant protects you from bad things happening to you," she said. "Typically Middle Eastern and Eastern European countries wear these pendants and have been for centuries."
Along with the evil eye design, Richards also sold items like handmade glass bracelets and lava soap made from volcanic matter in Greece. Also popular among the glass jewelry were Benedictine blessing bracelets, which are said to be made to represent ultimate salvation and protection in someone's life.
In addition to the wide collection of delicate handmade jewelry, multiple tents featured handmade wooden figurines.
In one tent specifically, Georgeous Salivano, a vendor and artist for Arts from The Holy Land, has been selling his intricate wooden figurines for eight years.
"Each wooden piece's price depends on the age of the wood, the artist and the size," he said. "The pieces can cost between hundreds to thousands of dollars because of the artistry. Sometimes it can take about five years to carve the pieces. When we begin to curve into a new piece of wood, it has to be completely dry so it does not crack over time."
For more information about the annual Tucson Greek Festival, please visit their website.
Follow Savanah Modesitt on Twitter