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Community, culture and food at Nashua's Greek Food Festival
This year's Greek Fest at St. Philip Greek Orthodox Church in Nashua featured almost 2,000 pounds of marinated lamb. (COURTESY)
"This is ethnic, it's real, and I think people are looking for that," said Pitarys, who was sitting just inside the door of the church hall on May 17, the second of the festival's two days.
"And it's food," Pitarys continued, noting that people typically enjoy sharing a meal, whether they happen to be the guest or the host.
That farm no longer exists - bought and razed years ago to make way for Interstate 495, Pitarys said. But what is still going strong is the region's Greek-American community, which in Nashua is united around St. Philip Church.
And it takes hands from many of them to put on the annual Greek Food Festival.
Jorge Pantali, head of the church council, and Kosta Baryimes were behind the church working over a huge charcoal grill where long spits loaded with pieces of marinated lamb were slowly cooking.
Pantali wasn't complaining. Like everyone else who was wearing an apron, he was happy to be sharing a little bit of Greek life with the rest of Nashua - and even happier to be working alongside families and friends he has known for years through his work at St. Philip.
St. Philip and other churches founded by immigrant groups provide programs for younger members to maintain ties to family heritage. But for older, first-generation immigrants, churches have long offered a community for people who share similar experiences, sensibilities and memories of people and places that are oceans away.
At St. Philip, there's been a small stream of new immigrants who grew up in Christian orthodox churches coming to services. Russian, Armenian and Romanian families all feel at home at St. Philip, which now celebrates many of its services in English.
Chetsas said there is a pan-orthodox community clearly in evidence on occasions such as Jan. 1, St. Basil's Day, one of the most important days on the Christian orthodox calendar. As part of St. Basil's Day, people cook and share vasilopita, a special cake or sweet bread.
Still, individual churches like St. Philip often host big events that give members a chance to showcase their unique traditions, and share their music, dancing and, most of all, their food. The Greek Food Festival is a chance to celebrate and share memories and open the door to new relationships and connections.