PAWTUCKET – Authentic Spanikopita (spinach pie), fresh Baklava and traditional and modern Greek dance will highlight the 86th Annual Grecian Festival, a three-day Greek festival that kicks off today at Assumption of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church.
One of the biggest Greek festivals of its kind in Rhode Island, the festival grounds at the 97 Walcott St. church, will be teeming with activity with everything from Greek dancing groups to an indoor/outdoor Greek Agora (marketplace).
The festival will be held today from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday from noon to 10 p.m.; and Sunday from noon to 11 p.m. Street parking is free and there will be shuttle bus service available from the free lot across from Pawtucket City Hall.
From Athens to Sparta, from the Ballo to Zorba's dance, the Greek Pride of Rhode Island, a Hellenic dance troupe, will be perform at designated times throughout the festival. Dancers will be dressed in imported, authentically and elaborately designed costumes, and perform modern and ancient Greek dances, including Kalamatianos/Syrtos, the most popular dance in Greece.
Syrto means a dragging or pulling dance. Several ancient sources describe syrtoes and an inscription at Delphi from the 1st Century A.D. uses the name. The Kalamatiano was the popular syrto in the south and, because the south was liberated first, it became the national dance and spread elsewhere. It consists of 12 basic steps and all the dancers in a circle dance it simultaneously. It is danced by all and may be led by either men or women.
For each dance performed, Greek Pride Dance Director Andrea G. Vastis will provide the audience with a brief history of the dance.
Regional costumes that will be worn by the male dancers include Foustanella/Tsolias, which was declared the national costume for men and is worn mainly in the central and southern parts of Greece; and Vraka, a classical type of male dress worn on all the Aegean Islands.
The Greek Pride of Rhode Island dancers will perform today at 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m., 5 p.m, and 7 p.m.
The festival’s main raffle grand prize is round trip airfare for two to Greece. Additional prizes include a seven day Boston To Bermuda cruise for two; a 46" high definition TV; laptop computer; Ipod Touch; a digital camcorder, a digital camera; and GPS.
A limited number of tickets will be sold. Tickets are $5 and can be purchase by contacting the church Office at (401) 725.3127 or by email at info@GreekFestivalRI.org  Prizes will be drawn on Sunday, Aug. 18. Winners need not be present to win.
There will also be plenty of traditional Greek foods and beverages prepared by community chefs available over the festival weekend, including roasted lamb, chicken, rice pilaf, Moussaka (eggplant and hamburger), Pastisio (macaroni and hamburger), Gyros, Souvlaki (kabobs), Spanikopita (spinach pies), and Tiropeta and Mezethes (Greek appetizers).
A Kafenio or Greek café will offer Greek coffee, village yogurt, baklava cheesecake and Paximadia (biscotti type cookies).
Meals will be served throughout the festival rain or shine, and dining areas will be located under tents.
A highlight of the festival is the pastries made by the women of the church’s Pholoptochos Society. Made in the church community center’s professional kitchen, offerings will include Kourambiedes (sweet butter cookies with powdered sugar); Finikia (honey dipped cookies); Baklava (fillo pastry); Kataife (shredded fillo pastry); Koulourakis (butter cookies); Galaktobouriko (custard in filo); Diples (crisped dough with honey); Karidopeta (walnut honey cake); Loukoumades (fried sweet honey puffs); and Rizogalo (rice pudding).
There will also be plenty of games and activities for children of all ages, including face painting, arts and crafts, games and a National Guard climbing wall on Sunday.
Established in Pawtucket in February 22, 1912, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Greek Orthodox Church has grown from its original 75 members to a community of over 350 families.
The Assumption church is the only Byzantine structure in the Blackstone Valley. The church property also houses a Community Center that includes classrooms, a function hall and professional kitchen.
It is during the Annual Greek Festival that the community has the opportunity to showcase its Greek heritage and culture, and its Greek Orthodoxy as it commemorate the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.