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Opa! Greek Festival This Weekend!

Cheyenne Greek Festival, Friday, September 14, 2012 and Saturday, September 15, 2012.  Frontier Park Exhibition Hall, Our parish of Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church invite everyone to come out and enjoy  authentic Greek food, pastries, beer and imported goods.In addition, there will be Greek music and dancing.   Admission is free and there is plenty of free parking.

This is some video from Denver’s Greek Festival last year.

Many years ago, in the parish’s infancy, the Orthodox Church in Cheyenne struggled to meet its basic needs to keep solvent and to grow. Immigrant parishioners, in their native villages, were accustomed to festivals that were held to honor a Saint, a person, or maybe an important event. They also served a secondary purpose, that is, to allow social contact between the villagers after hard work in the fields. At times they were needed to raise money for a community project, and again, to gather and to frolic. These gatherings were called “Horo (dance) – esperitha (evening function)” or “Evening Dance”

Poor immigrants established the Cheyenne Parish of Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in April of 1922. Most worked as laborers for the railroads and some worked deep in the mines of southern Wyoming. Their prime thought was to work, gather what money they could and to go back to their homeland and help their loved ones. In their struggles, and unbeknown to them, a series of deep roots were set down through their work, families, and the new society in which they lived. The consequence of this was that very few went back home to Greece, and they went only to visit.

When they came to realize that this new life was their future, they turned to their Church as the center of this life. Priorities changed and the highest one was to build a Church to provide for their spiritual needs. In 1924, these immigrants gathered together, raised funds, and build the basement as the foundation of our Chruch, which is still located at 27th and Thomes. This basement served as the Church, Greek School, and a fellowship hall for social gatherings for the next ten years.

In 1930, our spiritual leader, Archbishop Athenagoras, who later became the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, inaugurated the national church ladies organization, “Philoptochos” (friends of the poor). The local chapter assumed the responsibility in providing the many needs of the Church and priest, along with the needs of the deprived within Cheyenne.

In 1934, the Church assumed a large mortgage and built the Church ediface that we enjoy today. Once settled, the Horo-esperitha came into play. It can be remembered by most, that when they Greek danced, a box was placed in the middle of the “circle of dancers”. If your wife, daughter or loved one danced at the front, money was thrown into the box to honor them. This money would be collected and then be offered to the Church for support. Soon dinners and pastries were offered, and this internal “Bazaar” became so popular that non-members of the parish began to attend. It was voted by the Parish Assembly in the early fifties that this should be expanded to include the public. It took on the colloquial name: “Church Bazaar”.

There were about a dozen or more hard working grandmothers, we so fondly call “YiaYia’s” who became the nucleus. Some were widows and this was a way they could help support the Church. Soon their daughters and granddaughters joined in the gala event so they could learn their techniques of baking and share in the camaraderie. There would be a dinner, pastries and crafts sold on Saturday for the public and a dance with dinner for the parishioners on Sunday following Divine Liturgy. The Bazaar became very popular and soon it began to suffer for the lack of space. A new Sunday School addition was built in 1963, which would alleviate some of the crowding, along with allowing more crafts and pastries to be displayed in the Sunday School rooms.

In the late 1970′s, Greek Festivals were popping up throughout the country in the larger cities. In the early 1980′s, the Church Bazaar began to change and grow to attract more people from outside communities. There were three or four ladies who volunteered to Chair and co-chair this event for approximately seven years and brought the new ideas, new food booths, and many helping hands for this new growth. They involved the youth group of our Chruch, the Greek Orthodox Youth of America (G.O.Y.A.) to learn about the Church and they gave tours to the public and also offered a Religious Booth that offered many items for sale. Then Yia Yia’s Coffee Shoppe was added and Loukoumathes (small donut holes) were made by the thousands, along with Greek and American coffees, which became an instant hit! Pastries were pre-ordered and only enough pastries were made to fill these orders – they were never just sold to the public at the Bazaars without a pre-order! This way the “Ladies” knew exactly how many of each pastry they needed to make, which is very time consuming. The youth group was growing and soon men from the parish wanted to become more involved, so with the assistance from Mr. and Mrs. Don Schrader, (Schrader Funeral Home) they set up tents outside on the Church lawn and “Souvlakia” were introduced to the Cheyenne community and became one of the Bazaar’s favorite booths.

With the expanded growth of the Church Bazaar and parking becoming a concern, a small group of individuals met to form a “Festival” committee to explore the possibility of moving the Church Bazaar to a new location and expanding it even more. Fear was that there were not enough bodies to do the work required for success, and in 1986 the Parish Assembly voted that a festival would be tried.

Today, the “Greek Festival” is an entity of its own, governed by a committee (Greek Festival Governing Board) under the direction of the Parish Council. The original committee decided what booths would be tried after many trips to festivals around the area, and individuals stepped up and took the responsibility to chair them.

During the first two years many community leaders volunteered items to help us get started. Many of these community leaders and business owners still offer their assistance each year at the Greek Festival, and become “Greek for a Weekend”. We are proud to share the Greek Heritage with everyone.

The Annual Greek Festival continues today with the following booths: Deli, Gyro, Kalamari, Loukaniko, Makaronia, Pastries, Papou’s Pop Shoppe, Salad, Souvlakia, Taverna, and YiaYia’s Coffee Shoppe. The Cheyenne Greek Dancers and the Little Athenian Dancers continue to dance at the Greek Festival today. Many of today’s dancers are the daughters and sons of the original dancers. Other Greek dancers from Greek Orthodox Communities in Nebraska and Colorado have joined us in past Festivals.

It became apparent that many friends of our parishioners would come to help, if only for the fellowship and to experience something different. Various local organizations stepped up to help us as a project for their community contribution. They have become “Greek” for one weekend each September.

The proceeds of the Greek Festival are divided, with a portion being used to accommodate the Church operating expenses and special projects. We are happy to tithe back to the community, for the benefit of worthwhile local charities. Each year a “Charity of Choice” is selected in advance by the Parish Council of Saints Constantine and Helen. In 2010, we were happy to have the Cheyenne Kiwanis Foundation as our Charity of Choice!

Many citizens look forward to this event from year to year, along with other major events in Cheyenne. We are very happy that we are able share some of the Greek Heritage with everyone who visits our Greek Festival each year.

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