Monday, June 1, 2009

A Serbian Festival - Kansas Style

One of the benefits of living in a metropolitan area is the ongoing exposure to a kaleidoscope of cultures. If one is observant and does not confine oneself to their own little neighborhood, these facets can be seen in daily comings and goings around town - ethnic restaurants, traditional garb, neighborhoods and churches, etc.

Having first been introduced to folklore festivals during my days traveling about Europe as an Air Force bandsman, I enjoy and seek out these colorful events. Fortunately, Kansas City has a number of such festivities, ranging from large commercial enterprises at Crown Center to smaller-scale, community or church-sponsored fundraisers. They're all fun!

This past weekend I spent some time at a Serbian Festival sponsored by St. George Serbian Orthodox Church in Lenexa (College Boulevard west of Pflumm Road). I had photographed the exterior of the church about a year ago and had met the amicable Father Alex while doing so, with plans to return some day with the proper equipment to do some interior shots. I'm still planning to do that. The church building is only a few years old, but the appealing design pays homage to tradition, as can be seen in the photo below.

St George Church was established in 1919 in Kansas City, Kansas, presumably in the area of that town where other eastern-European immigrants had established their enclaves. In addition to the families of the earlier settlers, the local Serb community increased during the 1980s with the addition of families who fled their homeland as a result of the violence and (NATO) bombings. Even though this congregation has now moved to suburbia, they have always had a Serb-speaking pastor, and strive to maintain ties to their homeland's heritage.

Traditional music and dancing are integral components of most such festivals, and St. George had that lined up, too. I was told the scheduled folk dance demonstration would not take place until the evening, but when I mentioned I was hoping to shoot some dancing scenes, a group of youngsters from one of their "heritage classes" was rounded up to do a Kola (line or circle dance) for my benefit. How's that for accommodating? Pretty cool, eh? Somehow it did not matter one iota that these kids were wearing typical American garb rather than colorful native costumes. They enjoyed themselves, and were fun to watch.

The best part?

Food, of course! That's always my favorite feature of any ethnic festival. On this day I opted for a light lunch of Burek (a meat pie in filo) with a Serbian-style potato salad. Later in the day, I returned to the festival with Nancy to enjoy a meal of Cevapcici (grilled skinless sausage, shown below) before heading off to KC for the final subscription concert of the symphony for the season. Of course, we had to try out some sweets, too. They were great!

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I was pleased to run into a member of the congregation whom I had previously met at the Black Dog Coffeehouse - Patrick Hinkle. Pat took a few minutes off from his responsibilities to show me around, and was instrumental in lining up the dancing demo on my behalf. Thanks, Pat.

St. George Orthodox Church's Serb Festival is a low-key, but charming and relaxing affair, more like being at a big family gathering than a fund-raising extravaganza. In part, that is due to the friendly, good nature that Serbs are known for - even those transplanted to Kansas. Where never is heard a discouraging word...

All photos copyright frank thompson photos.

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