I finally attended the New Orleans Greek Festival. I wasn't aware of a Greek population in New Orleans. How big is it and what brought them here?
There is no other event in our city where one can enjoy the Hellenic culture by sampling souvlaki and baklava, listening to traditional Greek music, dancing and perhaps sipping a little ouzo as canoes and kayaks float by on Bayou St. John. No wonder more than 25,000 visitors enjoyed the Greek Festival over the Memorial Day weekend.
The annual festival takes place at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral and Hellenic Cultural Center at the corner of St. Bernard Avenue and Robert E. Lee Boulevard. The church has hosted the event for 41 years.
New Orleans has had a significant Greek population since the 1850s, due to shipping, trading and the cotton industry. Many Greek families lived close to the original Holy Trinity Church — the first Greek Orthodox Church in the U.S. — which began services in a temporary location in 1864 and moved to 1222 N. Dorgenois St. in 1866.
Nicholas Benachi, a native of Greece, sold some of his land and raised funds to build the early church. In 1930, there were about 200 New Orleanians of Greek descent living near their house of worship. To escape the European economic aftershock of World War II, more Greeks began to immigrate to America during the 1950s, and the church was rebuilt to accommodate more people.
The church moved to its site on Robert E. Lee Boulevard in the late 1970s, and the Hellenic Cultural Center was added in 1980. According to the church's website, the cathedral serves more than 400 families in the greater New Orleans area. The building at 1222 N. Dorgenois St. is now home to St. Luke's Episcopal Church.
The good news is you don't have to wait until next Memorial Day for a Greek celebration. Holy Trinity Cathedral is hosting an "Evening on the Bayou" event Oct. 11 to celebrate its 150th anniversary.