The signs outside St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral started heralding Glendi back in August; now, the time has come. Organizers anticipate 35,000 to 40,000 visitors over the course of the weekend for the annual festival of Greek food and culture.
“We’ve got a totally dedicated community that looks forward to putting on this event,” festival co-chairperson George Copadis said. “The people keep coming back and the lines get larger and larger.”
The parishioners at St. George’s are ready for that crowd, too. Over the summer, members of the congregation have prepared 7,000 pieces of baklava, 3,300 grape leaves and 4,000 meatballs and will serve 2,000 pounds of barbecued lamb at Glendi.
This year marks the 34th annual Glendi festival — glendi meaning “good times” in Greek. It runs Friday, Sept. 20, through Sunday, Sept. 22, in the parking lot and community center of St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Manchester.
“Most of the things we do is the same for every year because that’s what people enjoy,” Copadis said. “They enjoy the food, and they enjoy coming on the tours of the church and they enjoy learning about the culture.”
For Copadis, festival organizers and the congregation, Glendi is all about sharing Greek culture and heritage with the greater community of southern New Hampshire.
“We really enjoy celebrating with the people of the city [and] the state,” Copadis said.
As Glendi has grown over the years, the church has made changes to accommodate for space for the food supply with additional ovens, up-to-date equipment and extra walk-in refrigeration space to hold the spread of food for the entire weekend. Food preparation starts as early as June.
“[The ladies of the church] come in and diligently prepare all the foods,” Copadis said. “It’s basically an assembly line of people working.”
Although admission and entertainment are free, festival-goer’s pay for food; this year the festival will accept credit and debit cards.
“When they come in and they go under the large food tent, they walk away with a hot meal that’s been prepared by the ladies of the community,” Copadis said. “Usually a lot of people will come two out of the three days to get a different meal.”
Copadis said the most popular foods are the barbecue lamb dinners and lamb shanks, roasted in a special Glendi tomato sauce.
“Those are the top two items that sell really quickly,” Copadis said. “Usually by Sunday morning we’re getting to the end. … In some occasions, we’ve had to go out and get additional lamb on Saturday.”
Close contenders are the pastichio — baked macaroni with meat and a creamy cheese sauce — and the dolmathes, which are grape leaves stuffed with rice and meat and covered in a lemon sauce. Baklava takes the cake for favorite dessert.
“The foods obviously have a certain amount of spices: oregano, salt, pepper, tomato based sauces, lemon based sauces,” Copadis said. “Well-seasoned food that is very tasty, very moist. The shanks themselves, you just peel them off the bone. The meat is that tender.”
After a good round of lamb, spanakopita, rice pudding and finikia, guests can enjoy music from DJ Meleti, who was born in Manchester and is a popular Greek disc jockey who performs at Greek festivals all over New Hampshire. Kostas Taslis and his Orchestra will perform Greek music Saturday night.
Max from the Manchester Monarchs and Fungo from the New Hampshire Fisher Cats will make their appearances, along with a petting zoo and games for kids. There will be traditional Greek dancing as well.
“It’s going to make them feel like they’re in Greece,” Copadis said.
Many local political leaders plan to attend, including Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas and former Gov. John Lynch. Local businesses help sponsor the event.
Prior to 1980, St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral held an annual bazaar for the congregation. Since then, Glendi has become one of the most popular cultural fests in southern New Hampshire.
“Prior to 1980 it was an internal little festival in October,” Copadis said. “Throughout the years it’s just far exceeded any and all of our expectations. … I think in general the Greek people are very, very warm and very hospitable. They enjoy having groups of people over to their own homes. This is basically the home of all the parishioners of St. George Cathedral … inviting [New Hampshire] into our church home.”