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Old School Festivals

DC in the middle of August isnít the best place in the world to be.  As this past week has shown, Washingtonians really donít have much to look forward to during this time of the year; the days gets shorter, the oppressive heat and humidity finally catch up with us, and thunderstorms find a way to ruin our weekend plans.  Itís even harder on the Greeks who happen to still be in the area.  Either youíve just gotten back from Greece and are wondering why you are sweating in a 98 degree sauna instead of baking in the 85 degree sunshine of a Greek island, or youíre stuck here while every other Greek you know is still over there.  Thereís usually not much going on for Greeks in the area as a result of everyone being on vacation.  If only we could fast-forward to the fall, when a string of Greek Festivals, the annual D.C. YAL weekend, and the Laconian Dance over Thanksgiving weekend has everyone pretty much Greeked-out until the New Year.  But fast-forwarding through August would mean missing out on two truly special events available to those of us in the DC area that can get us out of the Metro area and take us back to the Greek village. The two events that weíre talking about, on back-to-back weekends every year in August, are the Greek Festivals at the Church of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary in Winchester, VA and the Neohorites festival near Abbotstown, Pennsylvania.  These festivals give DC Greeks a rare opportunity to escape the Metro area for a day trip that reminds us of the festivals of our parentsí generation back in Greece.

The Winchester Festival as its name suggests, is usually held on the weekend of or following the Dormition of the Virgin Mary on August 15th, which this year is on Saturday August 19th and Sunday August 20th.  Located in Winchester, VA, itís a little over an hour from the DC area.  Half the fun of this festival is just getting there.  I think weíve taken at least three different routes to get there and have gotten lost at least once with each different route.  The most scenic route is taking Route 50 from Fairfax straight through sleepy little towns like Aldie and Middleburg to Winchester.  The festival itself is very small but somehow attracts Greeks as far away as Baltimore, as thereís a dance troop from Baltimore that shows up there every year.  Now this is a very old school festival.  For years you couldnít even get gyro at this festival.  You could only get souvlaki, and that was on a stick, with Greek table bread, not pita.  The only other alternative was lamb by the pound.  To be quite honest, we hated this festival growing up for its refusal to conform to the fast-food commercialism of our generation.

 A week later is the Neohorites Greek Festival.  Now the location of this festival makes Winchester look like a thriving metropolis.  Located a little over 2 hours from the DC area in rural Pennsylvania, this is truly the meaning of the term ďexohi  I doubt Mapquest has directions to this place; actually, weíve been sitting here for the past 45 minutes, and Mapquest can only get you to the center of a town 5 miles away.  But once you are there, you are amazed by how there could even be a church in such a remote but scenic area.  The festival is almost completely outdoors, with an open wooden barn replacing the usual festival tent, with the hillsides providing an awesome backdrop for a festival.    This is one of the rare festivals where you can actually hear a clarino wailing above all the other instruments.  Youíll find Greeks from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and even New York and New Jersey at this festival.  Growing up we hated the long car ride getting there, but usually had a great time playing football in the open field right next to the festival grounds.  The only thing thatís missing are the goats and the cicadas or otherwise youíd think you were in a mountain village back in Greece.

 These festivals remind us of our summer vacation last year in our dadís village near Argos.  Thereís a small exoklisio dedicated to the Virgin Mary a 20-minute drive straight up a rocky, dusty road that everyone in the village treks to this time of year.  The festival actually starts a couple of days before August 15th, and the people here, mostly tobacco farmers, turn this festival into a 72 hour camp-out.  Camping in the horio is a little different than what we do here in the States.  Sleeping bags and tents are replaced with cots and mattresses; picnic tables are actually the patio tables from peopleís verandas.  Every year the same families come and stake out the same positions on the hill without an argument as to who got there first; itís like luxury boxes at MCI Center, except not so luxurious.  The morning of the 15th starts with the traditional church service.  The entire service is held outside.  The yiayiades are in front, attentively praying as yiayiades do; the papoudes, a few rows behind, are quietly carrying on conversations, but following along nonetheless.  The younger members of the congregation are always near the back it seems, thinking more about the meal that follows the service than about whatís going on during the service itself.

HOW TO SPEAK GREEK

BREAKFAST

BEER

Letís talk about this meal.  As you know, the period from August 1-14 is a fast period, and nowhere do people look forward to ending a fast more than in a village where ďthe other white meatĒ refers to lamb fat.  Lunch, more like breakfast, starts around 10:00 AM, and includes giosa (giosa-- old female sheep. Eeww! I mean ewe!), oven-roasted potatoes, salad, sour-dough bread (which they just call bread), and beer.  Imagine not having meat for two weeks and breaking a fast by picking wool out of your teeth and chugging Amstel at 10:00 AM.  Yum!  Now I bet thereís some sort of USDA ban on giosa in this country, but in Greece, thatís good eating. 

So, anyway, if you want to escape the city and go to one of these festivals over the next couple of weekends, check out our Events Calendar for upcoming listings including links for directions.  Note, the Guys at DCGreeks.com assume no liability if you get lost trying to get there.

Click here to read last week's column.