Cardiff Greek Festival

“92! Number 92!” cuts through the resounding clang of laughter and music.

Gyro order number 92 is handed over from the white gyro tent. Inside, volunteers are hard at work preparing orders over steaming grills heaped with tender meat.

A few of the volunteers at the gyro stand, like Filippos Tsironis (12), Emanuele Ammirati (12) and Anisa Anaya (12), are TPHS students. Their stand is one of many white and blue tents that sprawl along the grounds outside the Saints Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church.

This is the 43rd annual Cardiff Greek Festival, held on Sept. 9 and 10. The two-day celebration acts not only as an annual fundraiser for the church, but a place where everyone — old and young, vendor and customer, Greek and not — can get a taste of authentic Greek culture.

“The festival is a way to honor and respect my heritage,” Anaya said. “There’s not much Greek culture in San Diego, so the festival is really important to me.”

Anaya has been going to the festival since she was five. Her family has strong ties to the event; her grandmother is on the organizational board and Anaya herself has been volunteering there for years too. However, “this is the first year that other Torrey Pines kids that I know have been doing it,” she said.

The festival is a culmination of the effort of all members of San Diego’s Greek community. Near the gyro stand, a couple, Peter Fellios and his wife Connie, adjust what is left of their food selection at the Deli Market, a small stand with a white and blue striped canopy.

A woman passes by the tent, calling out to the Fellios couple. She’s searching for a special type of imported Greek olive, but all of the couple’s supply was sold out the previous day.

“Yesterday, the food area was so packed with people you could barely move,” Peter said, pointing towards where the TPHS students were working. “We had thousands of people coming.”

This is a reflection of the festival’s rapidly growing popularity: the two-day event attracted 12,500 people, according to its official website.

But it’s not only the number of people attending that has grown over the years — the festival itself has, too.

“Every year, [the festival] is different,” said Andreas Letsos, who runs a high school-accredited Greek language school in association with the church that offers lessons for kids in grades K-12, as well as adults. “It gets bigger every year.”

With this expansion comes an incredibly diverse array of stands and activities. A local band plays live, authentic Greek music. Vendors sell everything from corny t-shirts (“If your sweetheart is Greek, raise your glass. If not, raise your standards.”) to Greek flags and jewelry. The smell of Greek dishes like souvlaki, loukaniko and feta fries permeates the air. Each facet of the festival combines to create an embodiment of Greek culture.

“We try to make it a mini village of Greece,” Connie Fellios said.

This pocket of traditional Greek heritage transports the community to a home away from home, a place where the Greek community can return to its roots.

“[The festival] is about enjoying spending time seeing the adults do old traditions, like the traditional dancing and music,” Ammirati said.

Ammirati is part Italian and part Greek. But because his dad is “first generation Italian,” he’s “more in touch with [his] Italian cultural side.”

“Going to the Greek Festival, I also get to learn a lot about my past and my family from the Greek side and how things are done culturally,” Ammirati said.

The festival provides this point of connection for many in the community.

“It continues the traditions, in culture and also in food and music,” Letsos said. “From volunteering, I’ve gained a sense of community, of belonging.”

Greek culture, at its fundamental core, lends itself to fostering this feeling of togetherness.

“If you haven’t experienced the culture, you have to,” Tsironis said. “It’s inclusive and we want everybody to join in.”

Tsironis has been going to Greek festivals his whole life, since he was a newborn in Australia, where he grew up. According to him, these festivals are not as common in San Diego. Because of this, the Cardiff Greek Festival holds particular significance, according to Tsironis.

“You get together once a year, twice a year in festivals like this, and yeah, it’s special,” he said. These rare opportunities for connection are necessary for the small but tight-knit San Diego

Greek community to preserve their culture. “When you don’t celebrate it and do things with it, you forget it,” Tsironis said. “So it’s more about keeping the culture alive and showing others what it’s about.”

Over the years, more and more people outside of the Greek community have been attending, according to Ammirati.

“You gain a lot of perspective [going to the festival],” Ammirati said. “You understand the warmth that comes with other cultures and how Greek culture is super accepting. Even if you’re not Greek and you’re at the Greek Festival, they treat you as if you’re Greek.”

Whether it’s joining in on the dancing or eating a gyro from Anaya, Ammarati and Tsironis’s stand, participating in the Cardiff Greek Festival is a way to appreciate the beauty of a rich culture.

It’s a place to celebrate the simple joys of life and appreciate the people we share them with.

photos by Caroline Hunt/Falconer

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