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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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Michael Kuszczak performing seated high-kick, 1993.
Michael Kuszczak performing seated high-kick, 1993. Photo: Zenon Kuszczak

Ukrainian Sunflower Festival

This is among the most popular and largest ethnic summer festivals in Michigan, attracting 25,000 people annually. The festival features traditional Ukrainian food, ethnic dancing and costumes, and exhibitions and demonstrations of Ukrainian folk crafts, especially embroidery and ceramics. The parishes of two Detroit area Ukrainian Catholic churches, the Immaculate Conception in Hamtramck and St. Josaphat in Warren, began the festival during the 1980s to bring Ukrainian communities together, and to share the beauty and importance of the Ukrainian heritage, culture and traditions with other Americans. The sunflower is a traditional flower in Ukraine, and Ukranian immigrants following World War II brought its seeds with them to America. Each year students from the Immaculate Conception Grade School plant sunflower seeds around the perimeter of the festival grounds at St. Josephat so that the flowers are blooming during the festival.

Live professional craft demonstrations show how the gerdon (beaded necklace) of floral and geometric design, often worn with folk costumes, is made. Also popular are the coloring and decorating of Easter eggs, called pysanka; the pysanky symbolize rebirth or a new life. Other crafts demonstrated are wood cutwork and inlaid wood carvings.

Especially popular is the festival's ethnic fare. Daily food preparation by 50 parishioners begins weeks before the festival. Varenyky, a dough dumpling filled with potato, cheese, sauerkraut, or fruit filling, is among the sampling. For example, 1,000 pounds of potatoes are used just for the popular varenyky filling. Many desserts are made from old family recipes. A popular dessert is torte, which can be walnut, mocha, cream cheese and fruit. Ukraine has sometimes been called the bread basket of Europe, and the festival showcases many popular Ukranian breads, including korovaj, also known as the wedding bread. This unique bread is made of wheat and is decorated with specific symbolic figurines.

Among the festival's diverse entertainment under the "big tent" are ethnic dancers and constant music. Two ongoing dueling bands play back to back, one performs ethnic and the other contemporary or popular music. The project is documented with a notebook reviewing the past 13 years of the festival, 16 color photographs, supplemental material, and a CD and video.

Originally submitted by: Carl Levin, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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