Butte’s Serbian Festival celebrates Serbian and Orthodox Christian cultures, but you don’t have to be from either group to enjoy this event, which tantalizes all of the senses with food, art, music and dance.
The festival takes place Aug. 3 on the grounds of the Holy Trinity Serbian Orthodox Church, 2100 Continental Drive, which is arguably one of Montana’s best kept secrets.
Words can’t adequately describe the beauty and grandeur of the church, which is lined floor to ceiling with authentic hand-painted frescos. Iconographers were flown in from Europe to create the frescos, which depict scenes from the Bible, angels and saints and important leaders from the history of the Orthodox religion in Butte and Montana. Meanwhile, 30-foot windows feature hundreds of pieces of stained glass and two 650-pound doors stand like sentinels at the entry.
Orthodox Christianity is found all over the world, including in Greece, Russia and even in Ethiopia. In keeping with this multicultural backdrop, the festival features food from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
At the festival, participants can feast on handmade goodies from Serbia and beyond, including some dishes you may have heard of like baklava and others that are more off the beaten path, such as apple pita, a strudel-like dish calling for around 10 cups of flour. Last year’s event featured around 14 different dishes, including barbecued pork and lamb, Greek baklava and priganice, a Serbian deep-fried fritter topped with sugar, reminiscent of a donut hole.
Similarly, the festival features music and dance from regions where the Orthodox religion is found.
Festivalgoers last year were treated to the sounds of Krisko's Dance Party, a band from Anaconda that played a variety of ethnic tunes, and the moves of around 20 Greek dancers, who traveled from Salt Lake City for the event.
Most of all, Butte’s Serbian Festival celebrates the spirit and history of Butte’s Serbian community.
A previous article in The Montana Standard estimates that the first Serbians came to the Mining City in the late 1880s, “lured by the mines and the promise of work.”
The community built its first church on the corner of Idaho and Porphyry streets in the early 1900s. Construction began around 1905, and the church was consecrated the next year.
The site of the first church was eventually abandoned when the ground beneath it began to subside, and a new church on Continental Drive was built to replace the original in 1965.
Community and family ties were and continue to be important to parishioners in Butte, and the Serbian church is more than just a church. Instead, it is a gathering place where people build relationships and formed communal bonds. Through the Serbian Festival, it’s a tradition that continues — one that extends outward to all ethnicities and groups, to just about anyone who enjoys music, dance, food and community.