It takes a bit of money, not to mention a numbing airplane trip halfway around the world, to see the mountains and islands of Greece.
But this weekend in the South Bay, Greece will practically be next door. And the visit is free.
"It's a taste of Greece . . . for people who've never gone to the country or experienced the culture," says Pete Columbus, chairman of the 27th annual Greek Festival that unfolds Saturday and Sunday at St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church in Redondo Beach.
"We have the music and we have the most popular foods as well as the pastries the Greeks are renowned for," he says.
The church grounds will be dotted with navy blue and white booths--the national colors of Greece--offering handicrafts and food. Fashion shows will spotlight clothing worn in different parts of Greece, and there will be a children's area with special foods and games.
A five-piece band will play lively Greek music, giving everyone a chance to try their feet at Greek dancing.
"In the dancing, everyone links arms and goes around in a circle," Columbus says. "The beat of the music determines how fast they go. The great thing is that even people who don't know the dance can jump in the middle, watch someone else, and pick it up very quickly."
Dances from several islands and villages will be performed by a 40-member dance group made up of young church members. Girls with flowers in their hair and wearing colorfully embroidered aprons, and boys in vests and bloomer pants will celebrate the spirit of Greece. Their dances will range from the vigorous step-and-skip style of Macedonia to the graceful swaying movement that copies the waves off the island of Crete.
Marika Psihountas, one of the dance group's teachers, said many people who aren't Greek are drawn to the festival by the music and dancing. "They've been to Greece, are planning to go to Greece, or have seen 'Zorba the Greek' or 'Never on Sunday,' " she said.
At crafts booths, creations by church members will be displayed alongside items imported from Greece, including icons associated with the Greek Orthodox faith, cookbooks, ceramics and pottery, clothing and the popular Greek fishermen's caps.
Savory aromas will lead festival-goers to the food, which will be available outdoors as well as at a buffet inside the church gym.
Souvlakia, which is skewered beef or lamb, will be served, along with gyros sandwiches, a combination of beef and lamb served in pita bread with a yogurt and dill sauce. And spanakopeta , delicate triangular pies filled with spinach and cheese, will also be on the menu.
"The festival is known for its wonderful foods, which are prepared as they would be in our own homes. We're very particular," said Akrevoe Emmanouilides, who has helped put on the festival since 1973.
She is only one of many church volunteers who make the festival come to life every year. Columbus said about 220 people take part, doing everything from making baklava to cleaning up after the festival is over.
"There's a lot of advance planning, and during the two days, most church people work the booths, trying to make things easy for the people who want to get acquainted with the culture," Columbus said.
The festival was held initially to raise money for construction of St. Katherine, which serves nearly 400 Greek Orthodox families as well as other members of the Eastern Orthodox faith. It has grown into a major South Bay ethnic celebration, attracting more than 6,000 people over the two days.
For many years, it was held at the Torrance Recreation Center. Two years ago, the festival moved to the grounds of the church, which provided an opportunity to add tours of the sanctuary--with its Byzantine icons, stained glass and mosaics--to festival activities.
Emmanouilides characterized the festival as a way for the Greek Orthodox community to share its hospitality with the entire South Bay.
"We really emphasize that the Greek word for visitor and stranger is the same thing, xenos ," she said. "The Greeks are very warm and welcoming."
What: Greek Festival.
When: Saturday, Sunday, noon to 9 p.m.
Where: St. Katherine Greek Orthodox Church, 722 Knob Hill Ave., Redondo Beach.