St. Michael Orthodox Christian Church is hosting it’s sixth annual Mediterranean Festival in Beaumont on the church grounds, and festivalgoers have much to look forward to on the big day, Saturday, May 3. In addition to traditional cuisine from Greece and other Mediterranean countries, attendees will be delighted by a variety of unique ethnic goods on sale at the bazaar and diverse entertainment – and admittance is free.
The experience is both enlightening and entertaining for guests, according to event coordinator and St. Michael’s churchgoer Georgia Vasilakis.
“I think the main point of the festival is to share – share the food, share the culture, and introduce people to our church, just so people know it is here,” she said.
Vasilakis, who is a first-generation Greek-American born in Galveston and a member of St. Michael for several years, worked in a coffee booth at previous festivals preparing Greek and Arabic coffees. She is fluent in Greek and would take orders in her parents’ native language, instructing novices in enunciation. Each year, she also assists her mother in preparing traditional and delicious pastries for the festival from scratch. They use family recipes cultivated over generations and only the freshest ingredients for every item made with pride by experienced hands. Her mother, Athina Vasilakis, was raised on the Greek island of Chios. Her parents moved to Lumberton after her father, Konstantinos Vasilakis, started working with Lee Engineering before she was born. She said she was raised surrounded by Greek culture and loves that the festival encourages others to be part of that culture, if even just for the day.
Upon entering the church grounds on festival day, visitors breathe in enticing scents of assorted spices, listen to lively folk music from multiple performers, and watch dancers spin and dip during traditional routines. At the Mediterranean Bazaar, or souk, peruse and purchase a plethora of assorted items from shopkeepers lining the paths. Sift through a wide range of items including ethnic groceries, spices, china, fabric, table cloths, cookware, gift items, and a variety of coffees and teas from around the Mediterranean without traveling beyond Southeast Texas. Pick up singular souvenirs and gifts from Greece, Egypt, Syria or Lebanon.
Food booths line the perimeter of the bazaar, ensnaring passersby with irresistible fragrances. One can practically see the inviting aromas hanging in the air, steam fingers beckoning in a come-hither motion. Savory gyros, kabobs, pizza, spanakopita (fillo dough filled with spinach and cheese), dolmades (meat and rice stuffed grape leaves), kafta (ground beef blended with finely chopped onion, parsley and spices) and kafta sandwiches, makanek (Lebanese sausage served with lemon juice and sliced pita bread) and other Mediterranean fare will be available for purchase. Mouth-watering Middle Eastern and Greek pastries including Lebanese Baklawa (nuts in layers of fillo, topped with a special syrup) and gribee (butter cookies) will be sold inside the church. Other pastries including Greek Baklava and melomakarona (homemade spice cookies topped with a honey syrup and nuts, also known as finikia) will be on sale outside at the coffee café booth. A variety of Mediterranean beers and wines will be available for purchase in addition to a specially prepared Chilean wine beverage and wine spritzers. Inside the church hall, attendees may enjoy a traditional St. Michael’s dinner including kibbee (extra lean beef and cracked wheat stuffed with sautéed meat, onions and pine nuts), cabbage rolls (meat, rice and spices rolled in cabbage leaves and cooked with lemon), Arabic-style green beans and a slice of Middle Eastern pita bread.
“St. Michael’s dinner was first served in Beaumont in 1909,” Vasilakis related. “They did it for years and stopped at some point. Then, a few years ago, some people in the community wanted to bring it back. That’s the whole reason the festival started. People thought, ‘Hey, we should bring this back and have a festival too.’ The dinner is a hundred-year tradition for the church.”
While visitors shop for rare items and enjoy tasty treats from varied vendors, they can also enjoy the enthusiastic music and mesmerizing dance from troupes at the festival performing throughout the day. Alex Kalos, The Golden Greek, will be performing authentic dance-oriented Greek folk music and island dance music, as well as modern Greek pop. The Golden Greek plays a variety of instruments including the clarinet, keyboard, drums and the bouzouki.
Numerous dancers and troupes will be on stage at the Med Fest. St. Michael Dabke Troupe will perform inside and outside at times throughout the day. St. Basil’s Kefi dancers will also offer several performances during the festival. Tommy Denos of Houston will perform a traditional Zeibekiko dance number, balancing a wine glass on his head while spinning and dancing. Guests are free to dance but also get the opportunity to compete in a “So You Think You Can Dance?” Mediterranean dance contest. (No belly dancing attire – the event is hosted by a church, after all.)
Vasilakis said there will be plenty to do for children, as well. Sonny “The Birdman” Carlin and his array of exotic birds will delight children on stage in the children’s area of the festival. Pappy’s Ponies will provide a petting zoo and a four-horse carousel for kiddos. Happy the Clown will paint faces. Arts and crafts and games galore will be sure to keep the little ones fascinated for hours.
Visitors who purchase advance food and beverage tickets have the opportunity to participate in various drawings throughout the day too. Drawings for a flat-screen television, an iPad Air and two different golf resort packages will be held at three separate times.
Church tours are scheduled at 1:30, 3:30 and 6:30. St. Michael’s Father Michael Pavez will take interested parties on a tour of the gorgeous facility and share the history of St. Michael Orthodox Christian Church, consecrated in 1908. At that time, the church was a small, simple structure located at 1188 Ewing St. in the middle of the Syrian-Lebanese community, called the “hara.”
The church welcomes everyone, a fact Vasilakis said is a big draw for people looking for a place to worship.
Vasilakis said what she loves the most about the festival is just getting together with people from a variety of backgrounds who are all interested in Mediterranean culture. She said she loves the camaraderie and the chance to expose people to new ideas.
“I like just talking to people, sharing with them,” she said, smiling. “There is a lot of culture in Beaumont.”
Philanthropists can enjoy personal festival purchases guilt-free. After all, a portion of the proceeds goes to fund the medical hospitality house Anayat House, a facility that provides rooms for patients receiving medical treatment locally and families visiting patients locally and in need of low rates, and to the Nutrition and Senior Services ‘Meals on Wheels’ program, a program that delivers meals to community members who may not otherwise eat.
See what the Med Fest has to offer on May 3 from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. at the St. Michael Orthodox Christian Church at 690 N. 15th St. in Beaumont. It is free to attend, and food and beverage tickets will be available for purchase at the event or in advance at Abbie’s Imports or Charles S. Nacol Jewelry Company. Visit the festival website at www. stmichaelmedfest.com for much more information, photos and a sample of traditional folk music for your listening pleasure. Vasilakis says come early and stay late for a fun and fascinating event.