Start practicing your steps for the National Polka Festival and decide what traditional cotton frocks to wear to the tiny Czech town of Ennis, Texas. The annual dance festival is a great party, packed with authentic local culture and a big bargain getaway.
Ennis is part of the “Texas Czech Belt,” a swath of rural Texas that was developed by a large economic migration of farmers from rural Czechoslovakia. You can see small signs of Eastern Europe in the local architecture and interior decor.
What’s that stomping sound you hear? It’s the 16,000 residents of Ennis, Texas who host up to 50,000 polka enthusiasts at their annual National Polka Festival, held this year May 25-27, 2018. Since its founding in 1967, the Polka Festival has taken place over Memorial Day weekend and, by all accounts, it’s gonna’ stay that way.
The weekend offers an abundance of activities to be enjoyed by the entire family in a small city atmosphere. Learn about Czech traditions, religious customs, folk dances, tastes, sights and sounds, enjoying a “little bit of old Czechoslovakia” on the streets of historic downtown Ennis. And yes, this festival predates the 1993 split of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, so locals still refer to them as one country.
Since many Ennis-zens are of Czech descent, it’s only natural that the four Czech dance halls will host contests among bands playing polka, waltz and other folk music. Your whole family can enjoy a weekend of celebrating the Czech culture including varieties of folk dancing, Czech food, fun, and 13 sensational LIVE Polka bands.
In years past, those performers included Grammy Award-nominee Alex Meixner, Ennis Czech Boys, Praha Brothers and other local favorites. This year Parker McCollum and the Vandoliers are headlining.
Watching a parade of 200 floats and costumed citizens is the favorite Saturday morning activity for visitors. This giant parade that twists through historic downtown Ennis is so Instagram worthy! What a great way to kick off this fun-filled and photogenic weekend. Wear your best finery, charge up your flash and don’t miss it.
Our favorite part is enjoying the music of the polka bands who ride on decorated floats. We’re not blessed with physical coordination for the audience dance portions but we can keep up with the precision steps of the marching bands. The Shriners always march, and having that fraternity of local men who follow secretive Masonic rituals and traditions, as well as support local charities, is a cultural highlight for those interested in small town Americana. Visiting celebrities return to Ennis for an annual appearance and public officials, motorcycles, horseback riders and clowns march along too.
The annual Kolache Easting Contest requires each group (men, women, boys, girls all compete separately) to eat as many kolaches as possible. Kolaches are truly very tasty — these traditional Czech pastries are made of dough and filled with fruit such as poppy seed, apricot, prune and a white cheese. In Texas, you may get some with a spicy filling including sausage and jalapenos with that cheese, so be sure to sample them wherever you find them. And although the number eaten is always counted, the judges may be partial to contestants in the best polka costumes. Tip: If you decide to enter, be sure to wear your best.
Of course, there are polka dance contests and photo contests for best folk costume.
Grandparents will enjoy a front row seat at the tradtionally Catholic Sunday morning Polka Mass, followed by one of many ethnic feasts, which round out the offerings.
Come “Czech” out Ennis. Contact the Ennis Convention & Visitors Bureau for help with lodging, which really is inexpensive, and local information. Book early!
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