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September 23, 1990|KAREN E. KLEIN

Officially, the 32nd annual Greek Festival, being celebrated today at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, is intended to honor the 2,500th birthday of democracy in ancient Greece.

"We've done quite a bit of research on this and we're not just pulling a date out of thin air," said festival chairman John Tarazi. "They're celebrating in Greece, too."

Unofficially, however, the idea is for festival-goers to stuff themselves silly on platefuls of moussaka and honey-drenched kataifi pastries, to down ouzo, and to join the costumed dancers doing the tsamiko.

The festival, sponsored by St. Anthony's Greek Orthodox Church in Pasadena, usually attracts between 10,000 and 15,000 visitors each year, and has the distinction of being the most elaborate and the oldest Greek cultural fair in Southern California. In its early years, the festival was held on the church grounds after services on Sunday, Tarazi said, but it was moved to the race track in 1976 because of the surge in attendance.

"We wanted to get the community to know us, to get familiar with our language and our food and dance, to see that we are not strangers," Tarazi said.

The church's 450 families do all the work for the festival and the proceeds go to various charity projects sponsored by the church, including Orthodox missionaries around the world and a boy's home in Yucaipa. The church members bake 11 varieties of pastries and make the gyros, rice pilaf, dolmathes (stuffed grape leaves) and other Hellenic delicacies served during the fair.

This year, a highlight will be performances by the church's award-winning children's dance troupe, Tarazi said. A Greek dancing teacher will also be on hand to lead willing members of the crowd through some steps to the rhythm of the Hellenic Sounds band.

Today is the final day of the festival. It runs from noon to 9 p.m. Admission is $3 for adults, $1 for senior citizens and free for children 14 and under when accompanied by adults. There are additional charges for food. Parking at the race track is free.

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