NEW ORLEANS-- The New Orleans Greek Festival is one of the highlights of the spring festival season. For one weekend in May, anyone can eat Greek food, listen to Greek music while dancing Greek dances, drink Greek wine and even dress up like an Ancient Greek (for Toga Sunday).
This opportunity to celebrate all things Greek doesn't just honor a country 5,000 miles away. It's also a celebration of New Orleans' history.
"There were Greeks in New Orleans as early as 1766, if not earlier," points out Magdalene Spirros Maag, Chair of the Archives Committee of Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Maag says Greeks who came to New Orleans in the early years of the city were sought out for their education and connection to Ancient Greece.
"The French and Spanish of New Orleans and their descendants had been educated and trained in the classics," she says. "And, when they looked at Greek immigrants here, they thought: Plato, Socrates, and the drama, and the architecture and the Parthenon."
The Greek population in New Orleans began to grow because of the port. A new wave of immigrants in the 1800s brought their customs and their religion.
"We were the first Greek Orthodox church in the Americas," says Maag.
Before there was a church building, they met at a house on Bayou Road. Then, in 1866, the first Holy Trinity Church, which came to be called the Little Church, was built on North Dorgenois St. in Treme.
"Then, as other Orthodox, most of them Greek, came to the city they would settle around the church," says Maag. "So, there was a point at which a very huge percentage of the Greeks in New Orleans were living around the Little Church on North Dorgenois in Treme. As they continued to grow, it was time to build a new church which they did in 1951 on the same location."
Today, the second church built on North Dorgenois Street is now St. Luke's Episcopal Church.
Another wave of immigration in the 1960s and 1970s created the need for an even bigger church. In 1985, the Holy Trinity Cathedral opened at its present location.
"The Greek community in New Orleans doesn't encompass just the Greeks in New Orleans," says Maag. "When I was growing up in New Iberia, I considered myself a member of the Greek community in New Orleans, because this church functioned as the center of the Greeks in the diaspora of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast."
The New Orleans Greek Fest is Friday (May 25) - Sunday (May 27) on the grounds of the Holy Trinity Cathedral. Check out the Greek Fest website for more info.