It isn’t often Floridians hear “oom-pah”-style polka music, watch Spanish folkloric dance, eat traditional German food and shop for Celtic oddities all in one place. This was the scene at Friday’s Heritage Festival in The Villages. Villagers and visitors alike were treated to cultural festivities at The Villages’ Heritage Festival at Spanish Springs Town Square. The theme was European heritage, and various food trucks, market vendors and entertainment reflected the many diverse countries across the continent. Marie Rosich, of the Village of Fenney, is president of the Spanish-American Club, a group of over 400 members dedicated to appreciating Spanish culture. Rosich said it was important to her that the club not only let other Spanish residents know there was an organization to represent their heritage but that attendees of the Heritage Festival learn more about the many places Spanish-speaking individuals come from.
“We want people here to take an interest and appreciation in Spanish culture,” Rosich said. “We want to show them the food and music of different Spanish-speaking countries everywhere.”
Not only were Villagers excited to share their cultures, but they were also excited to encourage others to learn more about their own.
Peter Collins, of the Village of Bonita, is president of The Celtic Village Show Band. While his booth on the square was meant to advertise about the band’s upcoming performances, he also spent his time answering questions about various Celtic countries.
“I meet a lot of people who are very proud of their (Celtic heritage) so they relate to our music,” Collins said. “But when they say, ‘I have Irish ancestors,’ they don’t really know what that means. We want to teach them about that heritage.”
Linda Marcotte, of the Village of Charlotte, is a Villager with a passion for researching her own ancestors and sharing that experience with others. She is regent of the Puc Puggy chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and showed off a collection of research about her family, tracing back to how she is connected to the American Revolution. Her mother did her own genealogy research by hand shifting through mail and old records, and Marcotte found that she shared a lot of personality traits and interests to those who came before her.
“I feel such a kinship to them,” Marcotte. “I love quilting and found (my ancestors) did too. This research can show people why they like certain things.”
The Heritage Festival was a colorful event of Villagers in cultural costumes, dancing to traditional music and the smell of freshly cooked European cuisine. Attendees walked under different countries’ flags, and the streets were lined with classic show cars provided by the British Motoring Club.
Chalsi Cox, special events manager at The Villages Entertainment, said that she was excited to have the Heritage Festival back after it was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She said she wants residents to enjoy the cultural experience the festival offers and create lasting memories with their friends and families.
“My favorite part about events on the square is seeing our community come out and have fun enjoying our hard work and efforts into planning the events,” Cox said.
And for those anxious to set out and travel the world after last year’s lockdown, the Passport Challenge allowed participants to collect stamps for a prize. After traveling to four vendors, travelers could return to the information tent for a free commemorative pin.
There will be a second part to this year’s Heritage Festival from 4 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 8 at Lake Sumter Landing.
Entertainment for this night will include The Wonder World Band with Clark Barios; The Sliver Rockettes; Sweet & Sassy; and The Mystic Jewels.
Staff Writer Rachel Stamford can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5254, or firstname.lastname@example.org.