The only tragedy is NOT being Greek

The Denver Greek Festival


Mae Bryant, Journalist

     My good friend Addie was once quoted saying, “If I could be one thing, I would be Greek.” 

More specifically, Addie was once quoted saying that outside of a Greek Orthodox Church on June 17th while I locked my car. 

“Really? Out of everyone in the entire world? Greek?”

     But I, just 2 hours later, would strongly agree with that statement and even understand it to be the truest thing maybe ever said.

     Surely, (though I can’t be 100% sure), the Greek population in Colorado is not a big one. What I mean is, if there’s a Greek family in a suburban Colorado neighborhood they probably do feel a little alone. And yet then when I walked into the Greek Festival of Denver I was suddenly strongly (strongly) in the minority. 

     You see, this festival wasn’t like a renaissance festival (which I may have been expecting) where some novelty people wear costumes to indulge the Colorado public in a historical lesson about Athens and Zeus; this place in and around the beautifully domed Orthodox church was a party for the Greek that also happened to be an open invitation for the non-Greek people of the world (Addie and I).

     The moment I paid $5 to enter was the moment of understanding that I was seeing this world of Greek culture with completely empty eyes. Eyes which had never before known what it looks like to be Greek, or what Greek music is or what their language sounds like, what Greek families look like or any of the other countless things that make up Greek culture; an infant born in Greece yesterday would have known more than me. 


First looking up

 At the first moment of walking in, the most intriguing thing was the domed church. Inside, the walls were decorated with items of intensely deep religious history; practices and altars that predate any American churches by literally thousands of years. In the sanctuary I heard a priest preaching about the religious symbolism of the Greek churches’ architecture to a crowd of people that sort of came and went respectfully like tourists in a museum. The ornate mural painted on the dome roof is as close as it gets to the sixteenth chapel here in Colorado. Looking up at the beauty of the church made me feel suddenly wildly small. I must’ve had my mouth wide open the whole time. 

Inside of the church

     Outside, Addie and I became new small members in the huge crowds around the stands of pottery and jewelry (and even some tourist t-shirts), and Gyros and Spanakopita and the (very long) line for Loukoumades. The bouzouki (basically the Greek guitar) was being played somewhere and was pounding with the crowd’s energy, it determined with the crowd that this place was alive.

Roasting coffee

     Addie and I chose the emptiest stand to buy something from: ‘Greek coffee and deserts’. It was all run by ‘almost’ old women with thick accents. “What do you want?” one of them (who maybe made it past the ‘almost’ old mark) asked me. I could tell it wasn’t her first choice to have to speak in English to me. I felt a little bad, she was accommodating for me (a theme of the night), though this was not in a way where I felt in any sense ashamed or a nuisance by not being Greek. But like… let’s just say there’s a club, it’s all about Greek heritage, and each person in it knows how to do the Greek dance and Addie and I sort of eagerly stumble along and into it. And not in a metaphorical way. There was literally a dance we stumbled into. By the end of our Greek coffee adventure nearly the whole festival gathered around this stage to watch a group of kids my age (high school or so) in traditional costumes dance to truly (in every essence of the word), mesmerizing music.

     The dance was a performance technically, but I hesitate to call it that. The spirit of celebration which the audience carried was totally equal with the dancers’ spirit of rhythm and heritage. The definition of a ‘performance’ (which I, and many other Coloradans, have defined through watching hundreds of musicals and folk music concerts and… etc.) didn’t fit what I was a part of. 

     The whole crowd shouted “Opa!” and people were lifted on tables. And flipped over chairs.

     People in the crowd kept on running onto the stage and throwing dollar bills around their son or daughter or whoever it was. The respective ‘performance’ must’ve lasted for 2 hours, but personally how much time had passed couldn’t have crossed my mind less. I was just completely overwhelmed with this discovery of the rich, long, exciting Greek culture. It was the best thing I’d ever seen. Addie looked at me and said “I hate having no culture.” 

     My thoughts exactly, Addie. Witnessing Kalamatianos (the dance where everyone holds hands and sort of dances slowly in this big circle, look it up) got me thinking about America, or Americans, really just who I am. Sure I (and millions of other people) am, in my own way, a ‘diverse’ mix of Irish and German and Scottish and even a 16th Jewish. But really I’m just ‘American’, which really just means mutt. No American is actually purely “American”, we’re really just everything else. There are too many cultures mixed in my family tree, lightly soiled in the past 200 years of American historical events, which has truly led to my only culture becoming  malls and Hollywood and cowboys and the 4th of July and kicking the Native Americans of their homeland. 

     Seeing the Greek families and their culture, it’s so long rooted and tried. They’ve been around. Their traditions have been around for (again) literally thousands of years. So long a time that it’s now become a heritage, like how a myth turns into a legend. Not to say that if a person is born Greek they are forever entitled to only be like their ancestors. It’s just beautiful that the Greek have such festive identity. And I’m lucky to have seen it with empty, fresh eyes. 

      At the very end of the night, the dancers did the Kalamatianos again. The spirit was overwhelming. I was so clearly living for a little in how the Greek love life in the adventurous Kalamatianos. 

Sort of in the heat of the dance I saw one or two ‘non-Greek’ people jump on stage and join in. I stood up and said to Addie “Okay, let’s go now!” I could tell she wasn’t sure if we were inserting ourselves into a place we shouldn’t be inserting into, but I jumped on stage and grabbed this person’s hand, (lucky for me she was Greek). She led me around and we danced and I eventually saw Addie on the other side of the crowd in the middle of another Kalamatianos  line.


     Once we both made it off stage and I found my bag under the chair wasn’t stolen yet, we both agreed that just then, dancing in the Kalamatianos, that was the happiest we’ve both ever been. 

So if I could be one thing, yes, I would be Greek.