Burning Sun Can’t Stop the Fun at St. John Celebration Food Fair

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Virgin Islanders took to the streets of Cruz Bay Sunday to revel in a celebration of the arts. The 2022 St. John Celebration Food Fair led many to stand in line under a burning sun for their turn at a taste of local dishes longed for during the pandemic.

St. Johnian Doris Fleming welcomes Congolese revelers Babette Kanyinda, Erika Pezzella, and Fanny Mporo to the St. John Celebration Food Fair on Sunday. (Photo by Judi Shimel)

It’s been three years since St. John has seen a celebration like the one held Sunday. Social gathering restrictions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021 led organizers to stage limited festival events, one lasting one evening, the other lasting two days. At a press conference held earlier in June, festival committee chairwoman Leona Smith said this year’s schedule of events included all of those previously held except for the pageants and a concert night called the Musical Mix.

The St. John Festival and Cultural Organization, working under the Department of Tourism Division of Festivals, treated locals and visitors to a cultural extravaganza lasting from midday well into the night. An array of tents were lined up along the Cruz Bay taxi stand, serving baked treats, kallaloo, seafood, and savory stews. Fruit, vegetables, and herbs formed colorful displays at the produce stands farther up the street towards the Morris F. deCastro Clinic.

Craft vendors offered cosmetics, carvings, exotic baskets, and tee shirts settled in among the shady trees at Franklin Powell Park. Alfresco diners squeezed in between, along the low stone walls, forks at the ready for lunch.

“My brother is visiting from Atlanta,” said Carol Simmonds as she dug into a dish of lobster salad. Her brother, Paul Hendricks, turned his attention to a heaping helping, topped by a johnnycake.

Simonia Athenese prepares a lunch box at the Gwen’s Place vendor’s stand in Cruz Bay on Sunday. (Photo by Judi Shimel)

A walk along the vendor stand around 12 Noon emphasized the difference between the heat of the day and the cool of the park. But once a deejay let soca tunes fill the street, a group of women lined up to shake their bodies.

“We’re from Congo,” said Babette Kanyinda. “We came here to celebrate with you at your food fair.”

Governor Albert Bryan Jr. and Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach joined Food Fair Honoree Enid Hendricks Doway at the official opening ceremony. The governor said that all food eaten on Sunday at the fair would — if he could decree it — be calorie-free and would only bring pleasure.

Roach commended Doway for the years of work behind the scenes as a volunteer with the St. John Festival committee. It is efforts like hers, by people shunning the spotlight, that make big events like this come to life, he said.

A lively hat parade followed the ceremony, made up of women dressed in white, sporting their regal chapeaus. Watercraft zipped along Cruz Bay waters in the afternoon in the annual festival boat races. And as the sun went down, steel pan melodies drew hundreds into the Cruz Bay Parking Lot, soon to be officially dedicated as the 2022 St. John Celebration Village.

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