All In The Family
Greek festival keeps traditions going for generations
By Jessica Laskey
When the Sacramento Greek Festival returns for its 60th year Oct. 6–8 at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation across from McKinley Park, it won’t just be a celebration of Greek food, music and culture.
It will be a celebration of decades—and generations—of community.
“Everyone has something to do,” says Sophie Theodore, one of the festival’s longest-serving volunteers. “Some people make the sweets, some do the main dishes, someone makes sure the rice isn’t mushy. We even have the teenagers clean the tables.”
At 95, Theodore has helped behind the scenes every year of the festival, cooking, preparing pastries and making sure the three-day event runs smoothly. She remembers the early days with fondness.
“My mother and aunt would go to my aunt’s vineyard and pick grape leaves for the dolmathes,” Theodore recalls, fingering the pages of a festival recipe book from 1972 and an apron from 1984 she dons every year. “They would bring the leaves back to the church hall to be boiled, then a group of ladies would roll hundreds of dolmathes for the festival.”
Theodore has deep roots in the community. Her father was born in Crete, her mother on the Greek island of Skopelos. They met in California. Theodore’s father owned a bar at Second and K streets, the old West End. The family lived in Alkali Flat.
Theodore was introduced to her future husband, Regos, because “he was also Greek,” and was already familiar with her father’s bar.
They married in 1952 and followed Regos’ military career to far-flung locations. They settled back stateside in the late 1950s in East Sacramento near McKinley Park. The neighborhood has been home to their large extended family ever since.
“I remember riding bikes to other family members’ houses all the time,” says Theodore’s daughter Zoe Theodore-Pasco, who grew up working the festival with a Greek dance group from age 12 to 20.
Over the years, the Theodores have seen the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation grow and change. Theodore’s parents were instrumental in raising money for the church’s new 43,000-square-foot complex at 616 Alhambra Blvd., which was completed in 2017 after nearly three decades of planning.
The festival has also grown and changed. It was held at the old church on N Street for many years before it outgrew the space, then moved to the convention center, with one year at Cal Expo. Now it’s found a permanent home at the beautiful new complex on Alhambra.
“The festival is so special because the food is amazing, obviously, but also because it addresses the religious portion, the orthodoxy—people can go into the church and hear the choir sing—and also shows what true traditional folk dances look like in Greece and teaches people about Greece itself,” says Theodore-Pasco.
“I didn’t realize how special that was until I was older. Sometimes traditions are lost and people go looking for their roots. But here, they’re celebrated on a regular basis.”
The Sacramento Greek Festival will be held Oct. 6–8 at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation at 616 Alhambra Blvd. For information, visit sacramentogreekfestival.com.
Jessica Laskey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.