St. George Festival Offers Middle Eastern Food and Dance
Samantha Saba coordinates the children’s dance performances at the St. George Festival held September 16-17 at the church on 116th Street in Fishers. Samantha, whose parents are Palestinian Christian immigrants, says she is teaching the girls to dance to Middle Eastern songs. The group includes about a dozen girls ranging in age from 3 to 12.
“I have always loved kids,” she says. “You can have the worst day possible, but kids can change your whole perspective. They warm my heart.” Besides teaching Sunday School and advising the St. George teenagers, Samantha coaches a YMCA children’s basketball team. She grew up in Indianapolis and graduated from IUPUI.
Food, always the main attraction at the St. George Festival, will include separate booths selling lamb shanks, falafel, grape leaves, gyros, vegetarian plates and honey balls as well as a bake shop with Middle Eastern pastries. Entertainment includes live music and a children’s carnival with bounce houses and a zip line. A silent auction with gifts from local merchants is always a highlight. Last year’s attendance was estimated at 7,000.
Fr. Nabil Hanna, pastor, says, “Our festival historically offers a sense of intimacy, and guests see us as a family. This is our home, and we are trying to share a little about ourselves, our faith and our background. It presents our heritage of faith, hospitality, good food, music and crafts from our roots in the Holy Land, the Middle East and the cultures that make up our congregation.” He says it originated as the Middle Eastern Festival in 1995 and was renamed the “St. George Festival” in 2014 after the church moved from its old location on Sherman Drive. Founded by Middle Eastern immigrants, the diverse congregation now includes a large number of Protestant converts and families with backgrounds from more than 15 countries.
Susie Baranyk also grew up at St. George Orthodox Church, which her grandparents, who were Syrian Christian immigrants, helped found in 1926. Susie coordinates several volunteer greeters who ride the shuttle buses with guests from the off-site parking lot at Lutheran Journey Ministries about a half-mile away on 116th Street. “We talk about the festival, the various food booths, the entertainment and what to expect. We tell them about the church tours, which explain the unique architecture and the iconography. We tell them how much we appreciate their taking the time to visit our festival,” says Susie. “I hope our guests will leave appreciating the artistic beauty of the church and learning a little about our faith.”