Tulsa’s Greek Festival- Then and Now

In the beginning there was no marketa, no loukoumathes, no formal entertainment….just dinner and baklava.  Eventually, through the years, Tulsa’s Greek Festival added special touches. Wine tricks, honey puffs, church tours, non-stop dancing on stage, bakery items, delicious Greek food and much more can all be found every September at 12th Guthrie in Tulsa. Tulsa’s oldest ethnic festival originated approximately 55 years ago in 1961.  Ideas evolved from several parishioners with an innovative spirt.thumb_pastries-1_1024

Reportedly, in 1960, parishioners discussed a dinner idea with a fellow Greek who was the  manager of Tulsa Hotel.  Giving the  church members a room in the hotel and use of the kitchen was the opportunity that became the first Greek Festival (in 1961, approximately). It was a one night dinner and the customers were Greeks and their close friends. The committee was made up of chairmen, cooks, assistants and volunteers and they gave parishioners ten tickets each to sell.  Everything grew from there!

loukoumathes- "honey puffs"
loukoumathes- “honey puffs”

The original menu was lamb, rice, pastichio, Greek salad, dolmathes…..Pictured here are the original tickets.

original festival tickets
original festival tickets

The original ticket price was $2 . The outcome was a good start for the church members. At that time, the community was building a new church hall. They had two festivals a year with about 1,000 customers attending. They gauged this from the 1,000 kabobs (souvlakia) they served. The original festival was accomplished on one refrigerator, one sink, and one oven. The neophyte team was strong and full of energy and they continued to hold the festival  every year after 1962.IMG_6890_1024

At that time, several female volunteers dressed up like Greek goddesses and served the dinners. Years later, some volunteers wore regional Greek costumes and accessories as their attire.  Two young boys, dressed as Greek Evzone soldiers, were the entertainers, dancing every hour.  The sight of the cooks in their aprons coming out to dance for the crowd is a favorite memory for many. This has remained a tradition  through the years, usually on the last night of the festival weekend.IMG_6779_1024

The menu developed through the years, as well.  Kalamari (squid) and souvlakia  (kabobs) became favorite additions and one of the  most progressive developments to the festival was lamb. The cooks presented the idea and eventually it became accepted. It has been a tradition now for ten years or so. This year, a new item  will be introduced: “Greek fries” which is an appetizer topped with a  special seasoning, feta cheese and oregano.

The Greek dance groups are enjoyed not only  by the parishioners but also by the spectators who appreciate that the tradition of regional dancing is being preserved and passed down to the church youth. Lately, a live band and emcee have become worthwhile and engaging additions.


New Additions:

More exciting than ever this year are the new venues and additions to make it more family- friendly.

There’s a Kids Zone complete with a petting zoo. In 2016, the  Olympia Venue was sponsored by KTUL Channel 8. Saturday had NCAA football viewing with  in-seat service. There was a limited menu there with kalamaria, greek fries, gyros….Sports fans didn’t have to miss the festival to watch the games because they could watch the games there and be part of the atmosphere!

The new logo ,”OPAHOMA”,  combines Greek pride with state pride. “OPA!” is a term which expresses passionate spirit, similar to “yahoo!” The term “opahoma” is designed in the shape of our state. It’s also a way to thank Oklahomans for the half-century of support for our festival.thumb_13244687_1065438210197688_853341197561810928_n_1024

TOGA RUN– In 2016, Greek Festival partnered  with Runners World for this event which took place at .6:30 p.m. Saturday evening, Sept. 10th,  with a 5k and a Fun Run. There was a party afterwards under the tent with food and drinks. While togas were optional for the run, there was a  toga contest and even dogs were welcome to come in togas! Toga Run will return in future years. 2017 was a transitional year for us since our new community center was just recently completed. Due to that fact, the festival was moved to 0ct. 5-7, 2017 to accommodate completion.

Corporate lunches–This new feature allows the customers to order online and drive up to a special area for their carry out food.

VIP NIGHT- In 2016, on Sept. 11, Sunday night, the theme of “Santorini Night” beckoned the customer to wear casual or dressy white attire and enjoy gourmet food, auctions and entertainment. Reservations must be made in advance for this event. A portion of the proceeds from the event went to support: DVIS, Iron Gate, Day Center for the Homeless and Camp Agape. VIP Night details will be announced for this year.

Greek week–For the first time ever, in 2016, we offered almost an entire week of events with the festival itself (Sept. 15-17)  being the finale.

Tulsans ask every year “when is the Greek Festival?”, “Did I miss it?”, etc.. so we came up with a poem to help you memorize the date….(except for the year of 2017)…thumb_13179234_1065437596864416_1699917603545058683_n_1024

“Never forget; always remember, it’s the third week of every September.”

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