WINTER HAVEN — A three-day tradition that spans more three decades returns this weekend.

The St. Sophia Greek Festival takes place Friday, Saturday and Sunday at St. Sophia Orthodox Church, 1030 Bradbury Road. Katerina Ioannidis, the co-chair of the festival, thinks last year’s attendance was close to 10,000 over the three days.

“This is our main event,” she said. “It’s all volunteers, but it’s been successful every year somehow. I think if we stopped doing it, people would be very disappointed.”

The three-day event is free to children younger than 12 and a $2 admission donation is requested for all others for each of the days. Last year’s event raised more than $6,000, but Ioannidis said the visitor totals well-exceeded that output.

“We’ve got a reputation with all the Greek Orthodox churches that we’re tops as far as food goes,” said Dana Lindberg, co-chair of the event. “The place is buzzing. I’ve been going to this church and this festival for 30 years. It’s really become an institution in our community.”

In addition to the food and dessert, there will also be vendors and, for the first time, bounce houses for children. This year’s entertainment includes Greek Orthodox youth dancers as well as some new performances such as St. Barbara’s Hellenic Dancers out of Sarasota and a musical performance from The Islanders out of Clearwater.

“They’re a young, dynamic group,” said Mary Lindberg, Dana’s wife, and an event organizer. “We’ve added some new entertainment. The food — we don’t dare change that.”

Some of the popular dishes, Ioannidis said, are Greek lasagna, Greek meatballs, Greek salad, cheese pie and lamb. Last year, 42 pans of pasticcio, a Greek pasta dish, and 180 pounds of lamb shanks were prepared. All were gone by the end of the festival.

“You’ll get to feel like you’re Greek for a day,” Mary Lindberg said of those who come out. “It’s really authentic with Greek food and costumes and dancing and pastries — people love the pastries. We really do have a good, loyal customer base. The food is all prepared here.”

Also featured during the event will be tours of the church. Orthodoxy is one of the older sects of Christianity, Mary Lindberg said, spanning about 1,800 years.

“Our church and teachings are almost unchanged over that time,” she said. “It’s really loyal to tradition. Our church is very different from most others.”

Mike Ferguson can be reached at Mike.Ferguson@theledger.com or 863-401-6981. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.



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