Washington, DC is known for having one of the most diverse populations in the country. In fact, it’s one of the reasons people love living here. The melting pot of cultures in this city provides opportunities and experiences that some of the nation’s biggest urban areas can’t replicate.
While most of the city’s diverse cultures are well known, many residents don’t know about this area’s thriving Greek population. Once a year, though, everyone takes notice when a local church hosts their grand festival celebrating the best of Hellenic culture.
This weekend, from Friday, May 13 to Sunday, May 15, St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral hosts its annual Spring Festival, which takes life in Athens and transports it across the Atlantic, right into Northwest, DC.
The beautiful cathedral rests at the intersection of Garfield and 36th Street in Glover Park. Though the parish was established at the turn of the 20th century, the cathedral has only been in existence since the early 1950s. However, the modest architecture harkens back to much older days.
Built by a New-York based Greek architect, the church was designed with the Byzantine cathedrals of Constantinople in mind, constructed entirely in a soft-grey stone. Also mimicking ancient design are the two towers at the entryway, with small domes at the top, and the cathedral’s main dome, which is over 80 feet high. Inside, the church pays homage to history, with intricately-designed glass mosaics, also done by Greek artists.
The church is a beauty to see anytime of the year, but the best time to go is during the yearly Greek Festival.
Every spring, the church’s large grounds transform, with tents erected and tables set up, giving anyone who wants to attend a taste of the Aegean Sea.
The experience awakens all your senses. Aromas waft throughout the open area, coming from whole lambs roasting over beds of coals. The lambs have been cooking all day and are available to eat at any time. Take a bite and experience authentic, spit-roasted lamb. The meat is both crisp and succulent, a tantalizingly delicious combination.
That’s just one of the many Greek treats served during the festival. Lamb gyros are dished out on home cooked pita bread, with fresh tomatoes and lettuce, as well as made-from-scratch tzatziki sauce, a blend of Greek yogurt and spices.
Be sure not to limit yourself to just the outdoor dining options. Inside, in the basement of the church, there’s a buffet that serves more traditional Greek dishes, from spanakopita, a combination of spinach and puff pastry, to baked fish.
For dessert, there’s the super-sweet baklava, a dish similar to spanakopita, except instead of a savory filling, the puff pastries are stuffed with walnuts and honey.
Eating is far from the only thing to do at the festival. Across the grounds you’ll find booths selling hand-made Greek jewelry and artwork. On Saturday and Sunday, tours of the cathedral are given, and if you are there after five you can enjoy the live music and dancing.
For extra fun for the kids, the festival also has a moon bounce and arts and crafts set up.
Admission to the festival is free, and everything is reasonably priced, which means this weekend, there’s no excuse not to experience some of the Greek heritage right here in DC.
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