100th annual Lithuanian Days to be celebrated
FRACKVILLE - It will be a Baltic blast this coming weekend at and near center court in the Schuylkill Mall as the 100th annual Lithuanian Days will be celebrated with music, dance and plenty of ethnic food.
The Knights of Lithuania Anthracite Council 144 is the sponsor of the celebration, which is the longest-running consecutive ethnic festival in the United States. The Knights have been planning the party for some time, keeping many traditional things that many people have enjoyed for many years, and also adding some new ones for the special occasion.
"As usual, we'll have a theme every year," said council President Larry Domalakes. "Bernice Mickatavage set these themes probably for the last 15 years or so, and had picked amber as the theme for the centennial."
A longstanding member of the Knights from Minersville, Mickatavage died in 2011. She had been instrumental in many of the Lithuanian Days traditions.
The theme for this year is "Amber: The Gold of the Baltics." The "Baltics" refer to the three European countries along the Baltic Sea - Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.
"It's all about amber. It's all about Lithuanian Days. It's all about the culture and the heritage," said Domalakes. "It's 100 years. A lot of people didn't think we would get here. It's going to be an interesting time and a lot more people have shown a lot of interest about it from throughout the country. We've received interest from New York to Boston, which we normally do, but even more that we normally have, but we've done more advertising about it. Carol Luschas has gone out and pushed it on the Internet and social media sites."
A commemorative T-shirt is being designed by Karen Domalakes that will be produced by Dot Demmer of Demmergraphics in Mahanoy City.
"We actually expanding the heritage museums," said Larry Domalakes. "Jim and Dot Setcavage are doing one, Elaine Luschas is doing another setup. The Popalis family has asked to set up an area where they can show a DVD with past pictures of Lithuanian Day at Lakewood Park."
The Lithuanian Days celebration was started in 1914 by the Lithuanian Catholic Priests League at Lakewood and Lakeside parks to bring together Lithuanian immigrants and their families for a day of culture, fun and good fellowship.
Until the end of World War II, it was always held at the parks on Aug. 15, which is the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation for Catholics. Many coal mines closed for the day so the people could go to Lithuanian Day. After World War II, it was held on the Sunday closest to Aug. 15 to accommodate the young people who left the area for better jobs. As many as 25,000 people attended the festivities. Many prominent people attended and there was always a morning Mass followed by a program in the afternoon. It was held at Lakewood Park until the park closed, and then moved to Rocky Glen Park until that closed. Since then, the Schuylkill Mall has allowed the event to be held there.
All proceeds have been used for Lithuanian causes since 1914. In early years, it aided the Lithuanian religious orders in the United States. After World War II, it aided Lithuanian displaced persons in the DP camps in Germany and helped many to immigrate to the United States. During the occupation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union, it helped the underground in Lithuania and since independence, has aided with medical supplies, books and educational supplies to the poorest schools. Aid also went for orphan care and hospice, and to the elderly poor, many of whom returned from Siberia and have no incomes.
A special guest scheduled is Monsignor Algimantas A. Bartkus, who will be part of the opening program.
"'Father Al,' as people here knew him, was pastor of Annunciation BVM Church in Frackville and was the catalyst in starting Council 144," said Knights treasurer Paul Domalakes. "Schuylkill County had a multiplicity of Knights of Lithuania councils in each town with low numbers like seven, 25, etc., but none were very active. So Father Al gathered all the various members and organized a countywide group and called it Council 144, the 'Anthracite Council,' which is now the largest council in the Amber District of the Knights of Lithuania."
Bartkus is also the rector emeritus of the Pontifical Lithuanian College in Rome and is listed as a priest in the Diocese of Allentown.
Other special guests on Saturday will be Krista Bard, honorary consul from Lithuania to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Regina Juska Svoba, president of the National Knights of Lithuania. On Sunday, Mindaugas Zickus, Lithuanian Embassy representative to the U.S., will be on hand to speak in the afternoon, followed by something different.
"There will be a Lithuanian wedding song/dance on Sunday afternoon," said Paul Domalakes. "It is part of the sing-a-long at 1:45 p.m., which is following the Lithuanian Embassy representative. There will be a dance where the bride's friends say goodbye to their friend who is leaving the ranks of maidenhood and moving on to married life. Also there will be a another dance where the bride's parents welcome the couple back after they are married called "bread and salt." Also, some wedding drinking songs that will do double duty with the boilo contest."
The boilo contest, held for the first time last year, allows local people to submit a fifth of their homemade boilo for taste testing Saturday afternoon.