Heritage event looks to inform public about ethnic holidays |

Heritage event looks to inform public about ethnic holidays

Rob Willis says his hobby is “recreational anthropology,” because he likes museums, parades and ethnic festivals — like the one he’s attending this weekend at the Senator John Heinz History Center.

Willis and his Welsh group, the St. David’s Society of Pittsburgh, will be one of 37 groups participating in the third annual Heritage Holidays Weekend at the Strip District center. The group will have a table with information about Wales and the organization, and members will greet people in Welsh. Meanwhile, other organizations will share information, dance, food and other aspects of their culture with visitors.

Visitors will “get enjoyment and ‘edutainment,’ ” Willis says.

Heritage Holidays Weekend activities, held on the center’s fifth floor, will embrace the diversity in the Pittsburgh community, says Natalie DeRiso, community programs manager. The cultures represented include countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and more. Organizations will share with visitors how their cultures celebrate Christmas and other holidays.

“A lot of people know about their own background, but they really don’t know about the other cultures and other heritages,” DeRiso says. “A lot of people like to think of Pittsburgh as a big melting pot, but I like to think of it as a big salad bowl. There’s a lot here, and it’s all mixed together.

“It is a lot like the Pittsburgh Folk Festival, but on a smaller, more intimate level,” she says. “It’s an opportunity to really speak to the holidays in Pittsburgh.”

The festival appeals to all ages, and children will find plenty of activities to enjoy, DeRiso says. For instance, the Italian group will offer a crafts project for kids, and an African group will be doing face-painting.

“The whole festival has just a very family-friendly, kid-friendly feel to it,” she says.

John Righetti — president of the Carpatho-Rusyn Society, a national organization based in Pittsburgh — says his group will provide a display that will educate visitors about the holy supper Christmas celebration. The Carpatho-Rusyn people, who are based in parts of Eastern Europe, have a family meal that is free of meat and dairy products.

“One of our major goals is to educate people about who we are and what our culture is all about,” Righetti says. “This event really gives us a wonderful opportunity to do that.

“We find it to be very exciting,” he says about the event. “We like the crowd it gets — people who hunger for knowledge and who appreciate diversity.”

Additional Information:

Heritage Holidays Weekend

What: Third annual informational ethnic festival

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday

Admission: Included with admission to History Center: $10; $9 for senior citizens; $5 for students with ID, and ages 4-17

Where: Senator John Heinz History Center, 1212 Smallman St., Strip District

Details: 412-454-6000 or website

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