Czech-Slovak Folklife Festival draws crowds to Prince George

By: Sherry Williams Kidd | Twitter: @PGJournal
Posted: October 26, 2019 | 12:30 p.m. 

PRINCE GEORGE – Last Saturday was a cool crisp autumn day in Prince George and the perfect fall weather greeted attendees of the award-winning 7th annual Virginia Czech and Slovak Folklife Festival, hosted by the county’s regional heritage center.

The extremely popular festival is a highly-anticipated event each year, and smiles were in abundance everywhere you looked. Festival attendees, both young and old, checked out all the unique, colorful, and beautiful demonstrations, activities, and displays. The Czech and Slovak Folklife Festival was held on the grounds and in the museum at the Heritage Center, located at 6406 Courthouse Road, Prince George. There was amazing Czech and Slovak food, games, animals, activities, history, dancing, music, traditions, and more.

Large numbers of Slavic people settled all over Virginia following the Civil War. After the war, much of the South’s farmland had been decimated. The South was desperate for renewal of this land that had been laid-to-waste. They needed individuals with determination and knowledge of good farming practices. The Slavic people were experienced farmers and were enticed by promises of fertile land and a mild climate. Generations later, Prince George County is pleased to celebrate this heritage and culture with a unique Festival that salutes those brave settlers and their descendants that still remain in Prince George and throughout Virginia today.

“Within 30-years after 1890, over 700 Czech and Slovak families had settled here in Central Virginia, including Prince George, Dinwiddie, Emporia, Ladysmith, South Chesterfield, and Henrico,” said Dennis Sebera. I think it is fair to say that Prince George had the largest concentration of Czech and Slovak people. Like so many others of Czech and Slovak origin, I am here today, and for every Folklife Festival, to enjoy the food and festivities, and to honor my parents and my heritage.”

Special music and dance was provided by the AMERICAN SOKOL, of Washington, D.C. The uplifting music incorporated American folk songs, sung in the native language, and commemorative music for the Velvet Revolution anniversary. The invocation for the opening ceremony was given in Slovak by Pastor George Plvan, pastor of the Lutheran Church of Saint John the Baptist, of Emporia. The historic church is well over a century old.

“I think it is so great that we are once again having the Virginia Czech and Slovak Folklife Festival here in Prince George County,” said Donald Hunter, Chairman, Prince George Board of Supervisors. “Next week, several dignitaries from the Czech Republic will be visiting us here in the county, and this is very exciting news. The festival continues to grow each year, and we are so proud of our Czech and Slovak communities.”

There was traditional music and dance, such as the polka and waltz, and some of the festival-goers joined in to show off a few of their own steps. There were beautiful and colorful folk costumes, delicious kolbasy, kolache, and other scrumptious ethnic delicacies. Attendees just could not seem to get enough of the wide variety of delicious Czech and Slovak cuisine. There were interesting demonstrations of traditional farm techniques, to include the use of farm animals—and these animals were beautiful. Many of these same farm techniques are still in use today. Just a few of the favorites of the many children attending the Festival were the cabbage roll game, the ring toss, corn-hole, face-painting, and the delicious foods. There was also a joyous traditional children’s maypole dance.

“It is so rewarding to see this festival come together each year after all of the hard work, planning, coordination, and preparation, by so many dedicated people,” remarked Carol Bowman, Director, Prince George Regional Heritage Center. “Traditions and heritage come alive at this festival for all generations. Each year the crowds continue to grow, and attendees are coming from states further away. The Czech and Slovak people are such a friendly, proud, happy, and hard-working people, and this once-a-year opportunity to immerse yourself in their culture, traditions, and their delicious ethnic food is beyond amazing. It is so rewarding to see all of the smiling faces in our galleries here in the Regional Heritage Center, and at all the different activities going on all around the festival.”

So many folks attending Saturday’s event just had to know who was responsible for preparing the over-the-top delicious ethnic cuisine. It turns out that Carla and Mike Winters, of Prince George, long-involved in cooking for charitable events and churches, were responsible for almost all of the incredible food. With a lot of research, consulting with Czech and Slovak families, and a whole lot of help from volunteers, Carla and Mike made sure no one left the Folklife Festival hungry, or without a smile on their face.

The Prince George County Regional Heritage Center is a 501c3, Virginia Corporation. It tells the story of one of Virginia’s most historic and oldest counties. The Center is termed “regional” because its story is truly one of America’s regions, that at one-time, stretched to part of today’s North Carolina border and the Blue Ridge Mountains. In fact, seventeen counties and five partial-counties came from the original Prince George County, which was founded in 1703. In 2015, the Heritage Center opened its second exhibition area, the Cultural Heritage Building, which is dedicated to telling the story of immigration and its importance to this region. The focal point of this building is, “The New Bohemia,” a gallery of exhibits dedicated to the migration and settlement of the Czech and Slovak people, and a celebration of their culture. The Heritage Center is currently seeking funding for the Fire and Emergency Crew Museum, and the planned state-of-the-art exhibit devoted to the heritage of the James River, that will be housed in the Harrison Gallery.

The Center has no admission fee, and its facilities are available without charge, to all civic or county organizations. For additional information on the Prince George Regional Heritage Center, telephone (804) 863-0212 or email PGHistory Contributions to help fund the important work being done at the Center, may be mailed to The Prince George Regional Heritage Center, P.O. Box 452, 6406 Courthouse Road, Prince George, Virginia 23875.

Copyright 2019 by Womack Publishing
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