Columbia’s Greek Festival banners from previous years. The Greek Festival began on Sept. 15 and will be open until Sept. 18. Photo by: Caity Pitvorec

Columbia’s annual Greek Festival kicks off today, Sept. 15, after COVID prevented the traditional celebration the past two years.

Organizers are expecting record-breaking crowds. The festival is celebrating its 35th year at the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral downtown. The event began as a way to raise money for the church. But as it grew in popularity, the church was able to donate proceeds to charity, said Niki Stewart, one of the general chairpeople for the festival. 

“When we’re able to give, we give over 60 or 70 thousand dollars back to charities around the Midlands,” Stewart said. 

The festival lasts four days, and has a variety of vendors showcasing Greek culture. Maria and Leonidas Charalambides are fine-jewelry vendors who own Melikos and have been at the festival for 34 years. All of their products are made and brought over from Greece. 

“When I came, I just had the small table in the corner,” Maria Charalambides said. But each year, they took up more and more space and now have an entire room of products.

Her husband said jewelry prices range from $25 to $20,000, but their website has higher-end jewelry exclusively. Some of their finer pieces, he said, are the only replicas of jewelry from hundreds of years ago.

Valentina, one of the couple’s daughters, flew in with her kids and husband to help with what will be the family’s last year at the festival. She said the festival helps share the Greek spirit culture and history with the community.

“I think that ultimately remains the goal for the entire community,” Valentina said. “‘Because this is open, not just to the Greek community, but to anybody who wants to attend.”

Evan Hobbs, who grew up in the church, said the festival has grown significantly since he started helping out 14 years ago. Hobbs works in the kitchen, preparing the chicken and meatballs.

Stewart said more than 200,000 pastries were baked for the festival this year – one reason food preparation starts as early as May. She said the festival probably needs 600 volunteers but has around 400. Regardless, she’s excited to serve. 

“Greeks are very hospitable,” she said. “We love everybody. We want everybody to be happy.” 

Stewart said the festival has free parking and admission, which sets Columbia’s event apart from those in Atlanta and Charlotte. She said the church prides itself on having a fun, family-oriented environment and establishing relationships with locals in the community.

“We have a good relationship with Jimmy Jones of Christ Central, and he lets us use (the) parking lot, and we do have 24-hour police security all during the festival all those days,” Stewart said.  

The festival lasts from Thursday through Saturday at the cathedral, located at the corner of Sumter and Calhoun streets. It runs from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. 

“The most important thing is we want people to be Greek for a week – come and enjoy our atmosphere,” Stewart said. “It’s, it’s beautiful.” 

A table set up inside Holy Trinity Orthodox Church for Columbia’s annual Greek Festival. Photo by: Caity Pitvorec

A promotional poster for this year’s Greek Festival detailing the event. The festival started Sept. 15 at 10 a.m. Photo by: Caity Pitvorec

A Greek grocery store set up inside Holy Trinity Orthodox Church for Columbia’s Greek Festival. Photo by: Caity Pitvorec