You can’t travel very far in Louisville without passing by a Catholic church. There’s virtually one in every neighborhood and this time of year nearly all of them have big signs by the street advertising their annual church picnic.
Now let’s enter the world of these church picnics—because that’s what they are. There’s a culture with all of them. Perhaps the best part of them all is that they are inclusive. You need not be a member of that parish nor a Catholic to attend. I kid you not. The parish priest does not play bouncer making sure you have the Holy Spirit in you for attendance.
Anything can happen at church picnics, but it’s all good, clean fun. You can gather at the beer garden, gamble at a gambling booth, and people-watch the inevitable gaggle of youths in a conspicuous mass. Fried food is available in copious amounts. You can go home with a lot of crap that seems cool when you win or buy it, but when you get home you realize you have no use for it.
You can get way too much sun without realizing it. Church picnics will bring a smile to your face; sometimes it’s a throw-your-head-back-and-laugh kind of smile, and sometimes it’s a what-the-hell-did-I-just-see? kind of smile. Both are encouraged. A church picnic is an event where people of all ages, races, and backgrounds find a home and can have fun that lasts through the night.
From Okolona to St. Matthews, Portland to Germantown, you can find similar characters at each picnic. Here’s a quick rundown:
- The elderly woman bursting with pride over her winning houseplant or cake.
- The stout man in charge of the brat booth who secretly brings chicken wings, pickles, and onions to fry for himself and his cohorts.
- The young parents whose stroller is not filled with children, but toys, none of which will be useful in two weeks.
- The older parents who don’t care anymore.
- The 6th-8th grade girls who feel that church picnics are the best time to try to wear their new makeup and their cutest tank top.
- The 6th-8th grade boys who ignore the meticulously dolled-up females and stick strictly to the unspoken uniform of solid t-shirts, Jordan shorts, Nike sandals, and socks. (You know what I’m talking about.)
- The cynical man or woman who worries about the “despicable” youth.
- The enthusiastic kid whose dad let him spin the prize wheel.
- The parish priest who you didn’t know drank…that much.
And there are countless others.
Each Louisville picnic has its own niche though as well. There’s St. Agnes (July 18/19), famous for its very popular ride night which could match the state fair; St. Joe’s (August 8-9), whose picnic practically causes Frankfort Avenue and Brownsboro Road to shut down because of how popular it is; or the handful of picnics who think their fried chicken dinner is the best.
There’s something about church picnics that draw not just the parish, but the city every year. There’s something for everyone. Different ages, socioeconomic classes, political parties, and personalities are represented at each one—and they coexist. Where else can this happen?
It’s this beautiful thing that we have in Louisville; treasures in each neighborhood for almost every weekend from May to September, where you can literally cheer on a stranger who hasn’t won the ham he’s been trying to get for twenty minutes. You can meet the elderly women who would love nothing more than to take a winning quilt home. At a church picnic, the love and fellowship that are shared is unmatched.
As a member of one of these parishes and an attendee of multiple picnics, I can try to describe to you the essence and allure in these neighborhood perfect messes, but I am selling them short with words.
You must go to at least two of them this summer. Take a good look around the Catholic church picnic that is closest to your home; and feel comfortable and familiar. Then, on another weekend, go to a church picnic across town and appreciate the diversity. Appreciate the difference and similarity between you and other Louisvillians. You won’t regret this experiment. That’s basically what a church picnic is anyway, a test to discover something new, something new in ourselves and in each other. Crazy places they are, but definitely irreplaceable.
Did I mention you don’t have to be Catholic (or in any way religious) to attend? A list of parishes and their festival dates can be found here.
Photo courtesy of louisville.about.com