WATERTOWN, Mass.—Thousands from across New England walked through the doors of the Armenian Cultural and Education Center (ACEC) with beaming smiles and big appetites this past weekend to attend the 63rd St. Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church Bazaar.
“It’s a wonderful experience and many people come. Just like sometimes they come to church twice a year, they come to the bazaar once a year,” said Reverend Archpriest Antranig Baljian smiling. “They come from near and far… And people from the other churches also. Der Arakel is here too [from St. James.] I think that’s the best part. It brings us together,” said Der Antranig as he described the sense of community the two-day bazaar creates in Watertown every year.
The bazaar showcased homemade and imported Armenian crafts, clothing, jewelry, jams and memorabilia in addition to raffles and silent and live auction items. While generations young and old sip, stroll, socialize and shop, they always seem to gravitate to the mouthwatering meals.
The manpower behind the famous Armenian barbecue is fueled by husbands, brothers and sons of the community. The line wrapped around the ACEC as volunteers served savory chicken, beef and losh kebab and delicious kufteh and kheyma dishes. Experienced patrons know to head to the bakery section early, as the 12,000 choregs and countless pounds of manteh, katah, khadayif and baklava quickly sell out in just a few short hours.
The dedication behind the counters and the masterminds of the kitchen are a zealous group of ladies who have tirelessly served the church through multi-generations. Beginning in mid-summer, the women meet once a week on two different teams: pastry on Tuesdays, gourmet on Thursdays. “There’s a lot of comradery,” said Krista Aftandilian. “We love the church, and we love the people and that’s why all the ladies have the best time doing it.” While she was working in the kitchen, her daughter Lia was a volunteer serving the food.
“I’ve been with the church for 55 years and every summer, the week after the fourth of July, we start the process for the bazaar…making katah, choreg, boreg, and all the desserts like khadayif, paklava, ghourma… all that just to make enough money for the church,” said longtime volunteer and Ladies Guild member Zabelle Hoosian, whose daughter Lucy also volunteered at the bazaar.
This bazaar is the largest fundraiser of the year for the church; the money raised helps defray the cost of the church’s operating budget.
Rev. Archpriest Baljian noted the hard work of the devoted volunteers and said that everyone’s support “keeps the doors open and allows the church to minister to the people.”