SYRACUSE — St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Catholic Church is celebrating the 75th Jubilee Anniversary of its festival later this month.

   True that ethnic food, music, dance and fund raising steal the focus of both attendees and organizers. However, faith-based community building has always been at the base of the tradition.

   Parishioners of every generation have fond memories of the annual festival. Michaelina Kitt recalled that the first festival, 75 years ago, started on her father’s farmland, where he built a wooden dance floor and the women of the parish came and cooked food all evening. Others remember the Melody Knights, who played at the festivals which were held on the grounds of the New York State Fair. In fact, Michaelina’s nephew, Ray Kitt, played trumpet in the band!

   Julie Buranich was celebrating her 16th birthday in 1945 when her older brother brought her to an early Ukrainian festival at Pope’s Grove in Lakeland. There she met Steven Hulchanski and a spark was ignited. Julie joined the church choir to see him more often, and they married three years later in the parish church. Together they raised and baptized three children, celebrated the 100th birthday of her father with a Mass and parish gathering, and ultimately buried all four parents in the parish cemetery on Salisbury Road. And to think it all began at the festival.

   This year, 19 students of the 1971 graduating class of the parish school have been invited to a reunion. Mary Deskiewicz found their class picture and has personally invited all members to gather at the festival this year to reminisce.

   Dance has always been a staple of any cultural and ethnic festival, and the current Odesa Ukrainian Dance Ensemble is an outgrowth of the dance group organized by Ivan Pihulyiak in 1925, in which my mother, Anna Zaleski (Burak), and her four siblings all danced. Grandchildren, grandnieces and nephews of these original immigrant families now join with new immigrants, and Ukrainian Americans of third and fourth generations of Ukrainians who have settled in Syracuse and Central New York. Formed from the faith community which allowed them to build the church 125 years ago, the dance ensemble has always represented the regions of Ukraine through appropriate costumes, music and dance selections. The Hutsul, Poltava, and Bukhovynian regions are distinct (among others), and second, third, and fourth generation Ukrainian-Americans have learned the cultural history of Ukraine through the dances and costumes. To this day, Ukrainian folk dances thrill audiences with every performance.

   Religious life is also interwoven into every festival. Tours of the beautiful church, with an explanation of the Byzantine Rite “Iconostas” (Icon Screen), which displays both the history and the beliefs of our faith, are always popular aspects of the festival.

   Food, dancing, Ukrainian ceramics, jewelry, clothing, and an authentic oil Ukrainian painting will be available for sale via raffle tickets. Thousands of pyrohi, holupchi, breads, and desserts have been prepared. Baskets to bid upon, performances, and church tours will give you a true Ukrainian experience. Dance music and performances by both Ukrainian and Irish folk dancers will highlight the events on Saturday.

   All activities of the festival take place on the grounds of the church, located at 207 Tompkins Street, Syracuse, Friday, July 29 from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m, and on Saturday, July 30, from 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. On-street accessible parking is available, and accessible restrooms are also available on the grounds. There is no admission charge and all ages are most welcome. “Vitaemo,” as we say in Ukrainian: “Welcome!”

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