The normally quiet intersection of Route 9 and Alexander Ave. was alive with bumper to bumper traffic on Sunday as St. Alexander's Church held its 7th Annual Russian & Slavic Cultural Festival.
While the church has been in Howell for 75 years, the festival has provided an opportunity for people outside of the congregation to experience the food, music and games of their neighbors. Bill Mackanic, one of the organizers of the event said that is exactly why it was started. "We wanted to open up our home to the greater community," he said. "This is a chance for people of Russian and Slavic backgrounds to open our home up to everyone.
Part of opening up their home included a wide variety of delicious foods from all over Eastern Europe. People waited in line to try the fare available including shish-ke-bob, stuffed cabbage and a meat dish called kotlety. There were also other specialty dishes like pelmeni, which are meat dumplings from Siberia. There were also cheese blintzes to be had as well as a beet soup known as borsch.
Kathy Ford, a Jackson resident said she has been coming to the festival for five years and has enjoyed it every time. Originally from the Ukraine, Ford said it is a good chance to get back to her roots. "I miss the food and the music and this year I brought my mom with me," she said. "It's just a nice day to reconnect with a little bit of the culture."
The event also featured a wide selection of Russian beers and spiritis available for those of age as well as desserts in a section called "The Russian Tea Room."
With plenty to eat and drink the highlight of the day was arguably the entertainment that was provided. That included a wide variety of singers and dancer, all of which served as the introduction to the main attraction. Mackanic said the group many people came out to see was a singing and dancing troupe from New York called "Barynya." With a combination of singing and dancing, he called them, "the premier Russian song and dance ensemble outside of Russia." As he watched them perform, the member of the hosting church said their show is "like nothing you've ever seen before."
Last year the festival brought 1500 people to the church. This year that number was expected to go well beyond 2000 as Mackanic said the festivities have "grown exponentially" since the start.
It is all part of what he said makes the church such a special place for the people who go there. "Their life is centered around the community and it's about helping each other," he said of the congregants and their heritage. "When you come into a Russian's home you're part of the family for life. It's about bringing as many people into your heart and teach them about what's important in life. Family, community, culture, heritage and history."
Even as this year's festivities came to an end, plans were already in the works for next year when the festival is scheduled to return on Oct. 7, 2012.