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Festival marks 25 years of celebrating Czech heritage

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Sept. 26, 2010 at 4:26 a.m.

Marjorie Matula watches Czech festivalgoers dance to live music at the Victoria Czech Heritage Festival on Sunday. "We're all about preserving our heritage and having a good time while doing it," she said. The long-time VCCH Society member has been a part of the annual event since its debut 25 years ago.

Czech facts:

Czech is a West Slavic language spoken by about 12 million native speakers.

The Czech language was formerly known as Bohemian until the late 19th century, and is the majority language spoken in the Czech Republic.

Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

Prague is the capital city and largest city in the Czech Republic.

Czech cuisine is rich in meats, including beef, pork, chicken, goose, duck and other wild game.

The Victoria County Czech Heritage Society hit a milestone Sunday, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Czech Heritage Festival.

Charter member Marjorie Matula helped start Czech Fest, as it is affectionately known around town, with somewhat humble beginnings. About 100 people attended the first festival in 1985, which featured a small polka band, a pot of chicken noodle soup, a handful of kolaches, and the traditional Taroky card tournament.

"Plus we had the beer, of course," Matula, a fifth-generation Moravian Czech, said, smiling. "We had to have some beer."

But, in 25 years, Matula has helped grow the festival into a Victoria staple that annually attracts more than 1,000 people. And that's about how many people showed up Sunday for the festival at the Victoria Community Center.

"When we started, we just wanted a way to preserve our heritage," Matula said. "It started with the Taroky card tournament, but I suggested we do something for those who didn't want to play cards."

Czech Fest still offers Taroky, chicken soup, and beer, but now it's prepared for hundreds more people.

"Each year it has been progressively growing," Matula said. "People have been really catching on to what we're doing."

Like many attendees, Matula was traditionally dressed in a handmade crimson and dark blue kroj, fashioned from material she purchased on a recent trip to the Czech Republic.

"Czechs wear them to festive occasions," Matula explained.

And it certainly was a festive event. When festival-goers weren't eating a plate of traditional Slavic fare, including beef stew, sauerkraut, green beans, mashed potatoes, chicken soup and kolaches, they were dancing to the Shiner Hobo Band, or perusing the many varieties of homemade cakes, jams, breads, wine, clothing and jewelry items for sale at tables around the community center.

Even with 25 years of celebrating Czech heritage, Matula is convinced the festival will be around for many more years to come.

"We're still at it. We're not getting rid of it any time soon," she said. "We continue to invite everyone out each year. You don't have to be Czech to have a good time. That's what I always say."

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