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Greek Festival returns to Lewiston-Auburn

The festival celebrates Greek history and food in the Twin Cities.

PORTLAND, Maine — The tables in the basement of Holy Trinity Orthodox Church were literally stacked with trays of cookies. Thousands of them, we were told, all being readied for the return of the Lewiston-Auburn Greek Festival.

The festival had been an eagerly awaited event for years, until, like so many other things, COVID-19 shut it down for two years. This weekend, the festival is back, and this year’s chair, Melissa Landry, said they are very happy to be baking, cooking, and getting ready to invite the community. 

“It's sort of a way to share the culture, the tradition of the church, the food, the dancing, welcoming people in,” Landry said. 

Like so many cities in New England, Lewiston and Auburn saw a large influx of immigrants in the late 1800s and early 1900s. 

Most Mainers likely think of French immigrants from Quebec when they think of the Twin Cities, but Jim Simones, Melissa’s father, said there were many ethnic groups that came to the cities, including his grandfather, who came to Maine from Greece in 1908.

“There were many people coming to America where, as my grandfather said, 'the streets are paved with gold' because of the opportunity they had here," Simones said.

Credit: NCM

His grandfather saw the opportunity to build a little hot dog stand in downtown Lewiston. Just four stools and a walk-through, Simones said, but it worked. Simones' Hot Dog Stand is still open, and is an institution in the city.

“From 1908 to 1966 it was, as we say, across the street. And from 1966 on, we’ve been here. We just celebrated our 114th year,” Simones said proudly. 

The business is now employing its fourth generation of the family, Melissa and her older brother George, who are each raising their own children, the fifth generation in the Lewiston area.

According to records, Melissa said, there were about 340 Greeks who came to the city at the time her great grandfather did. Their shared history, heritage, and perseverance are what the Greek Festival celebrates.

It's also wrapped in the Greek Orthodox religion, which has been a central part of family life throughout their years in Maine. The festival takes place at the church, where George Simones offers tours of the building and the icons, mostly paintings of religious figures and scenes, that are part of the Orthodox service.

“Its our chance to give back to the community, invite them in and thank them for what they did for us and what we did for them,” George said, taking a break from cooking in the restaurant.

The whole family said traditional food is a central part of the festival. That brings in the cookies—kourambiedes, described as the traditional Greek “wedding cookie,” and finikia, a cookie dipped in honey, lemon, and cinnamon. Both filled the trays as they were packaged for the festival.

 And the list goes on, Melissa said.

“And then for big meal items [like] Athenia chicken, we have Asekio. [It's] like a Greek lasagna with pasta and meat in it. Then spanakopita, which is spinach and cheese pie."

Besides carrying the flavors of the old country, Landry said learning about those foods helps children get early lessons in their culture.

It's all being shared once again, this Friday and Saturday, in Lewiston.

Jim Simones and his family said hospitality for both friends and strangers is a Greek tradition, too, and the festival is an important part of that.

“We want to keep the tradition and customs going, and that’s what we’re doing.”

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