NORTHRIDGE – Pat Karamanougian came from her home in Long Beach to Northridge on Saturday for the opening day of the 34th annual Valley Greek Festival. “I’m Danish by descent and Greek by choice,” said Karamanougian. “I don’t understand the (Greek) songs, but they speak to my heart. It’s the spirit of Zorba the Greek.” She was one of tens of thousands of people spending part of the holiday weekend at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at one of the biggest Greek festivals in the nation. “We usually get up to 50,000 over the three-day weekend,” said Charlotte McCarty, co-chairwoman of the festival. “It’s a wonderful place to come, like walking into someone’s backyard garden party.” A favorite sweet dish is loukoumathes (Greek doughnuts) covered with honey and cinnamon and prepared fresh during the festival. One booth sells Greek ice cream covered with baklava. “It’s an excellent combination – the crunch of baklava and the smoothness of ice cream,” said Eudokia Koletti, who was selling the concoction. “It’s a delight for the senses.” Besides baklava, pastries include koulourakia (a Greek cookie made with sweet butter and topped with sesame seeds), and melomacarona made with honey, a bit of orange flavor, a touch of Cognac and sprinkled with walnuts. The festival also includes vendors selling Greek music, clothes, jewelry, pottery, olive oil, honey, landscape paintings and reproductions of paintings from ancient Greek pottery. The Olympians group is playing music for dancing throughout the three days, with performances every couple of hours by youth dance groups from the church in traditional Greek costume. “The dance groups are made up of the children of our community. They are the real stars of the festival,” McCarty said. Each day Golden Greek Dancers give lessons at 6:30 p.m. While thousands of the festivalgoers are of Greek heritage, everyone is welcome, McCarty said. “I would say it’s about 50/50 Greek and not,” she said. “I have non-Greek friends who come every year.” Mimi Jefferes of Thousand Oaks said she was introduced to the festival by her late husband. “He was half Greek and brought me here in 1980,” she said. “I learned to love the music, the people and the food. We traveled to Greece together, went to all the islands and danced our hearts out. We danced for about 15 years until he died.” Jennifer and Tom Hiltabiddle of Northridge said they have been coming to the festival since 1994 and dancing as much as possible. “It’s good for the soul,” she said. email@example.com (805) 583-7602160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “Once you hear that bouzouki music it really gives you the feeling you are in Greece,” said festival co-chairman Lou Skoby. “There is something about the music that makes you want to dance.” The festival is free, but the church usually makes more than $100,000 over the festival’s three days, mostly from the sale of food and beverages. The money goes for the church and church school. Many of the festivalgoers are attracted by the Greek food including souvlaki, moussaka, pastitsio, spanakopita, gyros, dolmathes and calamari. Beverage booths sell everything from strong coffee, soda and Greek beer to wine, brandy, and Ouzo, a potent licorice-flavored liqueur that turns milk-white when poured over ice. McCarty said church volunteers came out this year with 48,000 pastries in 14 varieties.