Moravian Day Festival helps expats stay in touch with their roots

Moravian Day Festival, photo: archive of United Moravian Societies

United Moravian Societies, a non-profit organization established in 1939, helps expats in the United States connect with their roots and stay in touch with their culture. The annual Moravian Day Festival in Lemont is a highly anticipated annual event that brings together expats from Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia for two days of singing, dancing, good food and merrymaking. I spoke to Roman Bobčík, president of United Moravian Societies, about what is in store for visitors this year and began by asking when the festival was first held.

Moravian Day Festival,  photo: archive of United Moravian Societies
“Basically the very first Moravian Day Festival here in Chicago started about two weeks after Hitler’s troops invaded the Czech Republic and occupied Bohemia. So the very first one was back in 1939.”

And it has been going on all these years?

“It has been, there has not been a break, not even of one year. This is going to be the 78th Moravian Day Festival in Chicago.”

Well can you tell us something about the festival? What’s it like and who attends?

“Yes, it is a two-day festival, it starts on Saturday afternoon with a homecoming dance and then it flips into the Sunday. On Sunday we start with a holy mass celebrated in the Czech language. We usually have different priests celebrating that mass each year and then right after that the main program starts, which lasts from two to three hours. More than 200 people take the stage in the course of that afternoon and they are all dressed in regional costumes from Moravia but also Bohemia and Slovakia. It is very, very colourful, it is all about folk-dancing, the singing and dancing is prepared and choreographed throughout the year by members of the expats organization Krajane here in Chicago. There is a singing group that sings all the songs in their original language, there are about six dance groups – from Besidka where you have four year olds, through Šohajka, to Radost, Omladina and Moravské Kolo, so the age of participants is from about 4 years old to about 104 years old.”

Moravian Day Festival,  photo: archive of United Moravian Societies
You mentioned the regional costumes…where do you get those? From Moravia or does someone make them?

“Actually, we are extremely proud of that as well. Most of the costumes are authentic pieces from Moravia, some of them are more than 100 years old and we try to preserve them as well as we can. Some of the costumes are brand new and have been made in Moravia, none of them are made here. They may have been altered to fit or repaired a little bit but also with spare materials that came from Moravia.”

So they are handed down from generation to generation. Is there still an interest among the young in this?

“There is a huge interest in this because the Moravian Society and Moravian Day Festival is not necessarily just about the festival, the organization tries to meet all the needs Bohemian, Slovak or Moravian expats have. So we teach Czech here, we celebrate all the Czech and Slovak holidays and so on. So it unites people for a lot of many other reasons and folklore and singing and dancing is one big glue that melts them all together., yes, this interest is passed down from generation to generation.”

There is Czech food, Moravian specialties at the festival – presumably kolace – who cooks and bakes the food?

“Most of it is made by our members, our organization has more than 130 active members at this point, and there are so many others that come to this festival as well. So most of it is donated by the members themselves and made according to recipes from the old country and there is also food made by Czech restaurants in and around Chicago – all home specialties, the classics, risky (schnitzels) pork, sauerkraut and dumplings and of course there is beer and fine Moravian wine. ”

Moravian Day Festival,  photo: archive of United Moravian Societies
What is the highlight of this two-day festival for you?

“It’s not easy to say. There is so much going on and everyone can find what they are looking for – culture, food and some typical Czech products that people like to buy, for example Bohemia Crystal which is very popular here. But for me the highlight of the entire festival is the two hour performance in those beautiful costumes, which is something that everybody is so proud of, not only around here but I believe in our homeland as well. I should probably also mention that every year we bring a brass band from the Czech Republic or Slovakia that plays live at the festival and this year it will be the brass band Skaličane.”

So you have people with Czech roots coming to this event from all over the country?

United Moravian Societies will hold its 78th Annual Moravian Day Festival Saturday through Sunday, September 23 and 24, 2017 The event, which is open to the public, will begin with a welcoming dance and concert at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday night in preparation for the main program which will begin at 2:00 p.m. Sunday, September 24. All events will be held at the Lithuanian World Center, 14911 E 127th St. in Lemont. Donation is for adults.

“Not only from all over the country but from all over the world. We get people coming from around the United States, but also people from Canada who come every year and also people from the Czech Republic, Slovakia and other countries.”

So it helps to keep friendships alive as well?

“Absolutely. And not all of us are Czechs, Slovaks or Moravians, there are people who came and expressed an interest in our culture, people with Italian backgrounds or Serbian backgrounds, Chinese backgrounds, Mexican backgrounds, they are all interested in a culture like ours because one thing the United States does not have is a long, long tradition and history. That is something that is extremely rare here. ”