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The church has been celebrating and promoting Greek customs and traditions since 1959.
According to festival chairman Tom Chiarchianis, Stockton’s Greek Festival was the second one in California, following Oakland, when it first started 63 years ago. Until 1987, the festival was held at the Civic Auditorium.
“We came here [to the church] in 1987, and we have been on the church grounds ever since,” Chiarchianis said. Today, the festival is celebrated with booths for a variety of Greek food and drinks, paired with live Greek music on the stage. As a part of the festival, attendees also get to tour Saint Basil Greek Orthodox Christian Church and light candles.
“The Greek Orthodox religion and the Christian religion are intertwined,” said Chiarchianis. “We also have church tours, and our priest, Father Pete, talks about that aspect of it — how it all ties in with the Greek culture. So, you’re going to find a lot of Greek food staples that you would find if you went to Greece.”
The festival kicked off on a blistering hot Friday afternoon, but attendees mostly shrugged off the heat, many of them returning from previous years so they could eat their favorite food and have a good time. As Friday’s temperature reached a high of 106 degrees, visitors cooled off with beers and coffee frappes, which were a hit with the crowd. Baklava sundaes, loukoumades, calamari with fries and gyros were served, among many other Greek dishes.
“We have been coming here for, oh gosh, like the past 8-10 years,” said Nicole Hodgson, who was at the festival with her husband and two children. “We love the food and culture, especially the gyros … We always try to at least come one day.”
While the temperatures in Stockton had been in triple digits all week leading up to the event, the organizers hoped the mercury’s dip into the low-90s would bring in more attendees.
“Since it is a 100 and something degrees today [on Friday], of course, it is going to be struggle,” Chiarchianis said, speaking about how many people he expected at the festival this year. “But on Saturday and Sunday, it is supposed to be down around 90, so I think we are going to have a big weekend.” The festival usually has anywhere between 7,000 to 10,000 attendees every year.
Harika Maddala is a photojournalist based in Stockton covering San Joaquin County for Bay City News Foundation and its nonprofit news site Local News Matters. They are a Report for America corps member and a CatchLight Local Fellow.