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AMBRIDGE, PA. 37th Nationality Days Festival celebrates variety of ethnicities



Published: Sun, May 12, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



There will be music, food, a craft bazaar and activities for children.

By TERRI BOGOLEA GALLAGHER

VINDICATOR CORRESPONDENT

AMBRIDGE, Pa. -- If dancing the hula, haggling over a Bolivian weaving or eating in the kitchens of eastern Europe sound like an around-the-globe dream vacation, prepare for transport.

And don't worry about airfare and itineraries.

Plan a jaunt to nearby Ambridge in Beaver County, Pa.

The 37th Nationality Days Festival will be celebrated Friday through next Sunday in the vale along the Ohio River.

The ethnic festival alfresco brims with entertainment, food and crafts from 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon to 8 p.m. May 19 along Merchant Street between Fourth and Eighth streets.

Festival visitors will be treated to multicultural entertainment on two stages, more than 20 ethnic food booths, and an arts and crafts venue showcasing the work of more than 30 artisans and exhibitors.

Nationality Days was founded nearly four decades ago when eight Ambridge churches came together to celebrate their heritage in a townwide festival, said Walt Sickles, festival organizer.

Ethnic mix

The community of 8,200 boasts a rich ethnic mix and was once a mill town and international steel center.

"I believe we still have that strong tie to our roots in Ambridge," Sickles said. "Nationality Days remains a celebration of ethnic pride for those of all ages. It gives people a chance to explore and discover their roots as well as learn about their neighbors."

Past festival attendance tallies have ranged from 50,000 to 100,000 annually from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Sickles said the festival's strong suit in the past few years has been an ethnic extravaganza of free entertainment.

This year's stage slate boasts music, dance and performance art from Greece, Poland, Croatia, the Middle East, Hawaii, Germany, Italy, Ukraine, Bavaria, Ireland and more.

"It is rare to see a lineup of such talent absolutely free," Sickles added.

Several tamburitzan groups will showcase the athletic dancing and colorful costuming of eastern European heritage. Italian music will be in the spotlight from traditional folk songs to Frank Sinatra.

Sickles promises hand clapping and toe tapping to music from mariachi to mazurka and klezmer to the twang of the Hawaiian steel guitar.

On the menu

And if the music drums up appetites, festival-goers can visit food booths dishing up ethnic specialties. Eating is done in the open-air atmosphere during this worldwide culinary journey.

This year's edible lineup includes foods from Greece, Italy, Croatia, Poland, Hungary, the Slovak regions, Vietnam, China, Wales, England, Germany and America.

In the wooden church booths, women spoon out butter-laden pirogi, seasoned cabbage rolls, and flaky, syrupy strudels made with the recipes their mothers and grandmothers have taught them. Down the block, apron-clad men roast gyro meat laden with Greek spices while onions and peppers sizzle on grills.

Some visitors also bring small coolers for take-out orders.

Shoppers can browse, barter and buy in the craft bazaar. Artisans with wares ranging from South American and American Indian works to American country crafts and novelties will add to the festival ambience.

For tiny festivalgoers, children's activities -- from pony rides to a petting zoo -- will be set up in the Fourth and Seventh street parking lots.

For festival information, contact the Ambridge Area Chamber of Commerce at (724) 266-3040.

Because of the crowd, seating is limited. Festival visitors may wish to bring portable lawn chairs. Strollers or wagons are musts for youngsters.




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