By: Sherry Williams Kidd | Email: Click Here
Posted: Oct. 29, 2017 | 12:00 p.m.
PRINCE GEORGE – The fifth annual Virginia Czech-Slovak Folklife Festival was held on Saturday, October 21, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the historic Prince George County Courthouse and the Heritage Center.
Since 2013, the Prince George County Regional Heritage Center, the Virginia Czech and Slovak Heritage Society, and the County of Prince George have partnered to celebrate the rich and vibrant history and culture of the Czech and Slovak families that immigrated to this area.
During the late 1800s, after the end of the Civil War, over 700 Czech and Slovak families came to live in Virginia. Many of these immigrants settled in farmhouses that had been abandoned during the war in the counties of Prince George, Dinwiddie, and Chesterfield. There continues to be a large population, culture, and heritage of the descendants of these Czech and Slovak immigrants in all three counties and throughout Virginia.
The day was exquisitely beautiful for late October; warm, a light breeze; falling leaves in hues of red, gold, yellow, and tan; and the most delicious smells of traditional Czech and Slovak cuisine wafted through the air.
There was traditional music and dance—such as the polka, colorful folk costumes, delicious kolbasti, a most delicious sausage, and tantalizing kolache—the most exquisite puffed pastries filled with fruit. The day was positively jam-packed with so many new and exciting things to see, do, touch, and try!
Mandy, of Williamsburg, brought her two grandchildren: Reagan, age 5, and Connor, age 2, both of Yorktown; to the Festival because, “I think it is so important for my grandchildren to learn about many different cultures as possible, even at their young age.”
“I believe the most interesting thing we have seen so far is the raw cotton right out of the field,” she continued. “It still has little seeds in it—it’s soft and prickly. It is very hands-on around here—they let us touch everything. We also got to see how they take the cotton and make it into clothing and sheets. The kids loved rubbing the big horses and mules. Next, we are heading over to check out the band and the other music, and then all the costumes too.”
A few of the favorites of the children attending the Festival were the cabbage roll game, the ring toss, cornhole, the face-painting, and the delicious foods. Some of the other activities and displays at the Festival included the Heritage Center’s permanent Czech-Slovak Immigration Gallery, music by the Village Musicians and the Czech Singers, Karicka Slovak dances and a Maypole dance by That Dance Place, old and New World Music Traditions by the Chesterfield Community Band, a display of a vintage Kroj costume on loan from a private collector, exhibition of Famous Czechs and Slovaks throughout History, history of SOKOL exhibition, an all-age gymnastics organization founded in Prague in the 1860s, farm Life and equipment displays, and farm animal demonstrations.
According to Carol Marks Bowman, Executive Director, Prince George Regional Heritage Center, “We are so privileged and fortunate to celebrate for our 5th consecutive year, the rich and wonderful culture of the proud Virginia Czech and Slovak people, and their traditions and customs. We thank all of the many people and agencies that help us do this every year.”
he festival has become more popular with each passing year. This year’s attendance no doubt surpassed last year’s when well over 2,000 visitors from several states attended the Folklife Festival. Mike and Miroslava “Mirka” Johnston and their children, Logan and Daniel, of Virginia Beach, said they arrived at the Festival before it opened and indicated that they wouldn’t be leaving until it closes.
Mirka, a Czech National, said “I have only been in this country for 7 years. It is so important for my American husband and for my children to learn the Czech ways and customs. I am so proud to show them all these beautiful things here. These things are a part of who I am, and what I came from, and it is good for my Family to know these things. It makes me proud to show them.”
While Prince George County has a wonderful and thriving Czech and Slovak culture, and has hosted the Folklife Festival for the last five years, Dinwiddie County also has a substantial Czech and Slovak presence.
In 1813, a young 15-year-old girl named Lydia Zitta left her home and family in Czechoslovakia to immigrate to America, hoping for a better life. When she arrived, she lived with friends of her family that had earlier come to Dinwiddie County. Many years later, Lydia’s great-nephews discovered the letters she had sent back home to her family, and the letters they had sent to her. The letters detailed the great love Lydia had for her new country, as well as her homesickness for her family in their little village near Prague.
The content of these letters was so heart-warming and descriptive of the culture, it was eventually translated into a small play, “Letters from Lydia.” The play has been performed to much critical acclaim; including at a previous Folklife Festival.
This year’s Virginia 2017 Folklife Festival was a resounding success! In addition to a fun-filled afternoon, the exhibits, the costumes, the dances, the games, and the ethnic food helped so many to get a glimpse into the lives and culture of the proud Czech and Slovak people, our neighbors, in our communities.