Having grown from its small beginnings in 1966 as an annual "Greek Night" to celebrate the history and culture of its parishioners, to the four-day-long festival that sprawls across the complex of the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral, the Houston Greek Festival barely resembles the same festival of only ten years ago. Most people agree that Greek Fest long ago outgrew its current location on the Cathedral's grounds, but where else to hold it?
The Greek Festival has become a victim of its own success.
Nearly hour-long waits in line to get a plate of tiropita, hordes of people packed like sardines into the marketplace (which is a miniature version of Phoenicia Market, for all intents and purposes), clods trampling through the gorgeous cathedral and getting quickly bored by the low-key presentations and leaving just as rudely as they came in, families huddling in the few shady areas they could find during the day: The Greek Festival just isn't as fun as it once was.
Yes, you can still buy a whole bottle of wine and swig from it as you walk around. But you're mostly walking on scorching hot black asphalt, desperately searching for a place to plant yourself. Yes, there are still adorable little old ladies running the cash registers as you buy your fill of finikia and rizogalo. Yes, there are still equally adorable little kids running around in traditional costumes, looking both itchy and excited at the same time.
But it's not the same anymore.
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I have no real suggestions for what the church could do to alleviate the crowds at Greek Fest. They're clearly doing as good a job as they can, spreading the festival across four days now -- Thursday and Friday weren't nearly as crowded as Saturday and Sunday were -- and running the show with genuine smiles and welcoming attitudes. It's not their fault.
Perhaps they could add more booths selling food, but that would only attract even larger crowds. Perhaps they could decrease the number of vendors in the jam-packed marketplace, but that would also remove a significant element of fun: One of the great traditions at Greek Fest is ambling back to your car with an olive tree sapling in a black plastic tub. Perhaps they could raise the cost of admission, but people would only complain and the crowds likely wouldn't decrease.
The festival has simply become too large and unwieldy for its current location, but where else could it possibly be held? Even if oafish men fail to remove their ballcaps when entering the church sanctuary, the festival wouldn't be the same without the cathedral tours. And the entire scene wouldn't be the same if it weren't set between the two basilicas of the Greek churches that sit opposite one another on Yoakum. After all, this is one church's yearly festival: Does it make sense to move it away from that church's property?
The Greek Festival has been saturated with monstrous, ungainly crowds and snaking, interminable lines for at least the last five years, and nothing seems to be improving. Has it finally jumped the shark? Or is there hope yet that it may transform into something new and improved?