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Thursday, December 7, 2023

St. Sophia of Winter Haven Celebrates Annual Greek Festival

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St. Sophia of Winter Haven Celebrates Annual Greek Festival

by James Coulter

Cheers of “Opa!” sounded out loud for three days straight as locals proudly celebrated their Greek culture and heritage during the annual Greek Festival, hosted last weekend at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church of Winter Haven.

For more than 40 years, St. Sophia’s has hosted the annual festival in celebration of its congregation’s rich Greek heritage with three days of food, music, dance, and festivities.

Children dressed up in traditional Greek costumes, groups performed Greek music and dances, and merchandise from linen, religious icons, pottery, and even groceries were sold. The church sanctuary was open for tours, as well as prayer and candle lighting.

Of course, what Greek festival would be complete without delicious Greek cuisine? Attendees could enjoy gyros, souvlaki, baklava, and other traditional Greek delicacies.

St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church of Winter Haven opened its doors more than 40 years ago. Since then, it has hosted its annual Greek festival to allow its congregation to celebrate its collective heritage.

Tina Thomas, parish council president, owes their success to their faith. Many residents of Greek descent reside in Polk County, so being able to have a place to call their own and share their traditions and culture is a real blessing, she said.

“It has been very difficult because we are a rural community here in Polk County, and people are determined to have a festival to help finance the church,” she said. “We appreciate everyone’s hard work. It has taken a community and beyond to make this a reality because it is a lot of hard work.”

Hosting the festival takes months upon months of preparation. However, when all is said and done, the event brings together the whole community, allowing the congregation to share their traditions and culture with others.

“I enjoy the wonderful Hellenism, Greek culture, and heritage,” Thomas said. “It is not just baklava, we have a beautiful culture.”

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