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Italian Festival, Grecian Fest Share Weekend In Wheeling

WHEELING — Since Wednesday and lasting through Saturday, the 21st Grecian Fest has provided Ohio Valley residents the opportunity to sample not just the cuisine of Greece, but the country’s culture as well. Starting today, it welcomes a neighbor on the festival circuit.

Just a three-minute drive — or a 14-minute walk, for those who might sample both — from St. John the Divine Greek Orthodox Church, the Undo’s Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival will cut the ribbon on this year’s event at Heritage Port. From today through Sunday, patrons will get a taste of Italian cuisine, music and tradition.

The two sharing the weekend is rare, but this year, it’s the case. Yet organizers from both festivals aren’t looking at this circumstance as competition. Rather, they see it as an opportunity and a way to maybe bring even more people into downtown Wheeling this weekend.

Italian Heritage Festival President Michele Fabbro and Grecian Fest Director Gus Kayafas share that belief. Fabbro sees late July as an opportunity for two prominent ethnic groups in the Wheeling area to come together and combine their efforts to share their culture with festival goers.

“I just see it as two really strong ethnic groups that are going to have fun during that weekend,” she said. “When it brings people into the community here in Wheeling, it’s a win-win for both of us, both the Grecian Festival and for our festival.

“We’re here for the same purpose — to share our cultures with people.”

Both cultures’ heritage will be on display throughout the weekend. At the Grecian Fest, patrons can take tours of St. John the Divine Church and learn about the Greek Orthodox faith. They also can hear a youth choir perform Byzantine Chant Liturgical Hymns inside the church each day at 4:45 p.m.

Outside, visitors can hear authentic live Greek music and watch Grecian dancers perform three times each evening, all while sampling authentic Greek food like gyros, souvlaki and spanakopita.

“We’re hosting people at our home and sharing with them our hospitality, our delicious food and our rich culture and faith,” Kayafas said.

At this weekend’s Italian Heritage Festival, along with performances of current popular music, the stage will welcome several groups specializing in Italian favorites like Avanti, the Rex Taneri Band and Ray Massa’s Big Italian Show. The festival will hold a Catholic Mass at 10 a.m. Sunday and also welcome the return of both the bocce tournament and the “Little Italy” attraction.

At Little Italy on 12th Street, festival-goers can sit down and eat authentic Italian meals, peruse vendors selling Italian goods such as prosciutto and sopresatta, pasta and pasta machines and clothing.

Fabbro said the Italian Festival is a local staple thanks to its variety of food options, the entertainment it brings to the waterfront, and the togetherness and community. Additionally, she feels people may also be drawn to support the festival through its charitable efforts, which in turn support locals.

“I think a lot of people realize that the benefits from the festival go toward our scholarship, so it supports the young people,” she added.

Both Fabbro and Kayafas hope people from around the Ohio Valley take the chance this weekend to visit both sites and broaden their cultural horizons.

“We think it’s great for people to come down and sample both festivals,” Kayafas said. “I know if I was going to one, I’d probably say, ‘hey, let’s try to go over and see what’s happening at the other one.’

“We don’t see it as competition,” he added. “We’re not in it for the money. We’re in it for the community and anything that happens is a windfall.”.

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