Temecula Greek Festival celebrates Mediterranean culture in southwest Riverside County

Traditional dancing entertains the crowds at the Temecula Greek Festival Saturday, Oct. 12, and Sunday, Oct. 13. Will Fritz photo

Thousands of Temecula residents, Greek or not, descended on City Hall for the Temecula Greek Festival over the weekend of Oct. 12-13.

The festival, now in its 13th consecutive year, featured lunch, desserts, beer, wine and entertainment, including music and traditional Greek dances.

Niko Aue and Nick Bozonelos, both 15, were among the dancers and said they have been practicing their moves and performing at the Temecula Greek Festival since they were children.

“I started getting into Greek dancing five or six years ago,” Bozonelos said. “I’ve been going here for about six years, ever since my aunt and uncle moved out here. I watched it grow from a tiny little festival to this huge event.”

Aue said he’s been practicing a little longer – since he was 4 years old. And he agreed with Bozonelos that the festival has grown quite a bit in size over the years.

About 6,000 people attended the Temecula Greek Festival this year, organizer Dimitri Thiveos says. Jeff Pack photo

“This festival used to be tiny,” he said.

The festival was organized by St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Murrieta.

“All Greek festivals in the United States are through the church,” Leo Flionis said, who was working a booth selling loukaniko, a Greek sausage. 

But the Temecula Greek Festival is relatively new.

Dimitri Thiveos, who helps organize the festival for St. Nicholas every year, said the festival has gone from about 2,000 attendees during its first year more than a decade ago to about 6,000 visitors this past weekend. He said there was another Greek festival in Temecula in the 1980s, but it never got much attendance and was shut down. Its modern iteration started back up in 2006, Thievos said. It’s the festival’s fifth year at Temecula City Hall. 

It’s the biggest event the church organizes all year, and everyone plays a part, he said.

“Family members, friends, my kids from San Diego, Studio City, they come to help the parents,” he said. “It takes about five months preparation.”

The festival is funded mostly by donations from churchgoers, Thiveos said, and it usually costs about $60,000 to run.

“We have to do advertising, pay city hall, the tents, the fencing company, the security,” he said.

The church is usually able to make back about $25,000, he said. Most of the workers, except the security and musicians, are volunteers.

“We spend a lot of money on this together because we like to expose our culture to the community,” he said.

Organizer Dimitri Thiveos (right) of the Temecula Greek Festival takes a photo with Marci Hadjis, who prepared many pastry desserts for the festival. Will Fritz photo

And there was plenty of cultural display. 

At one tent, guests could order gyros – a type of Greek sandwich – with beer and wine nearby.

On one side of the festival, attendees could taste Greek desserts like baklavas and kataifis – which church volunteers began baking and freezing months in advance.

“You need butter, you need nuts, you need patience,” Marci Hadjis, one of the people running the pastry area, said of the preparation process.

She said the recipes all have a lot of meaning for her and everyone else involved in preparing the desserts.

“In so many of them, they have roots in our parents,” she said. “I mean, it goes back even to when we were babies and even when our parents were babies because a lot of the history goes back to Greece and even really just the whole Mediterranean area.” 

Will Fritz can be reached by email at wfritz@reedermedia.com.

Temecula Greek Festival food vendors offered gyros, a type of Greek sandwich. Will Fritz photo

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