FRACKVILLE - Hundreds of people came from near and far to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Lithuanian Days at the Schuylkill Mall, and there were plenty of ways to enjoy the culture and heritage of Lithuania.

Lithuanian Days, the longest-running consecutive ethnic festival in the United States, is sponsored by the Knights of Lithuania Anthracite Council 144. It has never missed a year in that time, and has outlasted the first three venues where it was held when it was a one-day event - Lithuanian Day.

According to the commemorative green T-shirt with yellow and red lettering (the three colors of the Lithuanian flag), Lithuanian Day was held at Lakeside Park, Lakewood Park and Rocky Glenn Park from 1914 to 1987, then at the Fairlane Village Mall in 1988 and 1989, and then came to the Schuylkill Mall in 1990, where it has remained as the two-day event.

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. The cultural museums featured amber, as did many vendors who sold pieces of amber to amber jewelry. Vendors throughout the center court area sold food, books, jewelry, wood carvings, Lithuanian beer and wine, shirts and many other types of Lithuanian-related items.

Council 144 Treasurer Paul Domalakes of Frackville made the opening remarks and was the master of ceremonies through the afternoon.

Domalakes gave a short history of the ethnic event, which was started in 1914 by the Lithuanian Catholic Priests League in Schuylkill County for 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. After the two years at Fairlane Village, the Schuylkill Mall became the new home.

"There are many memories and changes that have occurred over those 100 years, and one of the best is that Lithuania is a country once again and breathes the free air of independence," said Domalakes. "And a great benefit of that independence is the partnership between the Lithuanian military and the Pennsylvania National Guard. This is a joint effort to improve relations between our two countries and to cement the blessings of democracy in a land hungry for self-determination after so many years of Soviet enslavement."

Domalakes called for the beginning of the event with the procession of an honor guard, with the Pennsylvania National Guard bringing in the U.S. flag, and members of the Lithuanian Partisans Living History Group from the Baltimore area with the Lithuanian flag, followed by the playing of the U.S. and Lithuanian national anthems.

The invocation was presented by Monsignor Algimantas A. Bartkus, a native of Lithuania who is rector emeritus of the Pontifical Lithuanian College in Rome and is listed as a priest in the Diocese of Allentown. Bartkus served in Lithuanian parishes in Schuylkill County and was instrumental in the founding of the Council 144 by combining smaller Knights of Lithuania councils in the region into one council that was larger and more dynamic.

Schuylkill County Commissioner George Halcovage presented a proclamation from the board of commissioners to Bartkus and Council 144. Presentations were also made by Honorary Consul Krista Bard from Lithuania to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Regina Juska Svoba, president of the National Knights of Lithuania.

The opening ceremonies were preceded by music by "The Sensations" band. After the ceremonies, the event began with the Lithuanian Family Polka Group, which was an ensemble of entertainers who performed throughout the day.

The afternoon schedule included two performance of the Zilvinas Dance Group, two of the Malunas Dance Group, performances by Lynne Cox on the accordion with the Lithuanian folk group Varpelis, Lithuanian native and singer Kolorado Romas, and partisan campfire songs by Romas, Cox and Varpelis, including a sing-along.

Knight Karen Domalakes announced the winners of the Lithuanian elementary school scholarships, which are presented to children of Lithuanian heritage who attend Catholic elementary schools. The boilo taste testing was also held at the Screening Room in the mall. The contest was for anyone who wanted to submit a fifth of their favorite recipe for boilo.

Behind the center court stage was the place to go for homemade Lithuanian foods, and throughout the event people stopped to get their annual taste of cold beet soup (Saltibarsciai), potato pudding (Kugelis), meatballs (Kotletai/Bandukies), Lithuanian sausage (Desros), potato pierogies, stuffed cabbage (Balandeliai), fresh dill pickles (Agurkas), sweet sauerkraut salad (Saldus Rauginti Kopūstai Salatos), and more.

Today's program begins with The Sensations band at 11:30 a.m., opening ceremonies at noon with the welcome from Domalakes, followed by a presentation by the Lithuanian partisans group. The Gintaras Children Dancers from Mahanoy City will make their only performance this weekend at 1 p.m. Mindaugas Zickus, Lithuanian Embassy representative to the U.S., will speak at 1:30 p.m. Varpelis will perform at 1:45 p.m., that will include a sing-along with a Lithuanian wedding song tradition.