Taste of Greece at New Cafe

Costumed dancers from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Portsmouth are applauded by an audience at the Children's Museum of Portsmouth during a celebration of Greek Independence Day on Sunday afternoon. From left are Stavroula Birmbas, Ana Iordanou, Alexandra Kamakas and Kosta Birmbas.
Photo by Andrew Moore

By Beth LaMontagne

PORTSMOUTH - Children dressed in traditional Greek clothing danced and clapped to celebrate Greeceís independence at the Portsmouth Childrenís Museum Sunday.

Maria Tsougranis, a Greek language and culture teacher at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, coached the children through various dances from mainland Greece and its many islands.

The colorful costumes, some very elaborate with gold-coin necklaces and intricate embroidery, were either made in Greece or by family members here in America, said St. Nicholasí pastor, the Rev. Angelo Pappas. Each costume reflects a different region in Greece, from the dark, modest clothing of Crete, to the more extravagant costumes of the northern mainland, Pappas added.

"These are traditions that our parents and grandparents brought over," said Pappas. "We want to instill in the children a sense of tradition and pride."

The event was sponsored by the national Greek fraternal organization, AHEPA, which stands for American Hellenistic Educational Progressive Association, in hopes of teaching local children about Greek traditions.

Dancers show off some of their moves.
Photo by Andrew Moore

"During the year of the Olympics, we wanted to teach children a little bit more about Greek culture in Portsmouth," said Debra Sarhanis, who became involved with the new exhibit through her husband, a member of AHEPA.

After local members of the organization returned from the festivities in Athens last summer, they donated a few small items they brought home to the museum, including Greek money and groceries. These souvenirs have been incorporated into a new Greek Café exhibit, replacing the Mexican Cafe, with pictures of the Parthenon, Greek letters and mighty gods, like Poseidon.

"What we decided to do is celebrate the opening of the café, and it coincided with March 25, Greeceís Independence Day," said Heidi Duncanson, director of marketing and community relations.

The new exhibit, created with help from AHEPA members and their wives, teaches children about the Greek language, the ancient architecture and popular food dishes. There are plastic shish-kabobs in a model Greek kitchen and an elaborate mural, painted by St. Nicholas parishioners Aleka Munroe and Victoria Dimou, featuring popular gods.

The emphasis of the exhibit is on "hands-on" projects, allowing young children a chance to play as well as learn, said Sarhanis, who added that they were able to create an authentic-looking Greek café through AHEPAís help and community donations, like ionic columns from Harvey Industries.

Pappas said the event showed how important - religiously, socially and culturally - the Greek Orthodox Church is to the Greek community.

"Itís more than just a religion; itís our ethnic pride. All of this is part of who we are," said Pappas.

The event, as well as the newly revived Greek Festival planned for this July at the Jarvis Center in Portsmouth, brings attention to the large Greek-American population in the area.

"Weíve had a Greek community in Portsmouth since 1928, but many people donít even realize we are here," said Pappas.

Besides music and dancing, parents and children snacked on traditional Greek food like Greek salad, small cheese pies called tiropita and a milk-custard dessert, galaktobouriko.

Children could also make Greek flags and decorate "evzone," a costumed soldier who fought during the war of Greek Independence.