Listen in on a conversation in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect in the Nachbarshaft Haus (Neighborhood House) at the Kutztown Festival and you will sense the colorful traditions of the Pennsylvania Dutch in southeastern Pennsylvania. This is where Carl Snyder, Paul Kunkel and their fellow members of the Grundsow Lodge gladly greet visitors and answer their questions about the “Pennsylvania Dutch,” as they are widely known.
Attend a seminar on Pennsylvania Dutch home life, hear the melodic Mennonite hymn singing, or sample typical foods prepared in the summer kitchen, and you will appreciate the culture of the people who settled this area starting over 200 years ago.
Then, take in the festival’s 4th of July parade and you’ll witness the great pride Pennsylvania Dutch have in being Americans. You will see all of this and much more at the Kutztown Festival – the oldest continuing folk life festival in America – June 30 to July 8 at the Kutztown Fairgrounds.
“The festival originated 58 years ago to present Pennsylvania Dutch culture to a wide audience. It has evolved into an entertaining family event that maintains its original emphasis on Pennsylvania Dutch traditions and history,” says Festival Executive Director Dave Fooks.
The seminar stage is the focal point for learning about the Pennsylvania Dutch. Topics presented by expert speakers include local history, family life, food, holiday traditions, clothing, folk superstitions, folk medicine, and Pennsylvania Dutch humor.
Religion and spirituality among the Pennsylvania Dutch are reflected in the Mennonite meeting house services held each day, and in presentations on the Mennonites and Plain People given by Mike Rhode, a practicing Mennonite. The “churched” Reformed and Lutherans congregations formed the majority of the settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries, and their customs are discussed by Dr. Harry Serio, an ordained United Church of Christ minister.
On the lighter side, the Pennsylvania Dutch are known for their humor. Two of the best presenters on the seminar stage are Bill Meck and Leroy Brown, both fluent in the dialect, who tell their comical stories in Pennsylvania Dutch and then with an English translation.
Reenactments of the simple and beautiful Mennonite wedding, the tragic 19th century hanging of Suzanna Cox, and lessons in a one-room school house are presented daily at the festival. And visitors can try their luck at dowsing, the unscientific but still proven method of finding lost items – a common practice in the Pennsylvania Dutch region in the late 19th century – as performed successfully by Keith Schaffer.
Now in its 58th year, the Kutztown Festival features a wide variety of good family fun. In addition to lots of Pennsylvania Dutch food, there are 220 nationally-recognized, juried folk artists and traditional American craftsmen; nearly 2,500 locally hand-made quilts on display and for sale; antiques and collectables, 6 stages of entertainment, music, dancing, and a wide range of children’s activities.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, June 30 to July 8. Admission for adults is $12, seniors $11. Children 12 and under are admitted free. There is ample free parking and free shuttle service is offered from the Festival parking areas to the fairgrounds. For a free brochure, please call 1-888-674-6136 or 610-683-1597.