By Emily Williams
More than 240 years ago, the rocket’s red glare, bombs bursting in air and the votes of 12 colonies sealed the creation of our country – on July 4, 1776.
One year later, that date was celebrated with parades, official congressional dinners and music, finished off with fireworks, a tradition that still stands today.
Among the celebrations marking the Fourth of July throughout the Over the Mountain communities, Our Lady of Sorrows’ stands tall.
According to church officials, the OLS Fourth of July Festival is celebrating its 69th year, making it Alabama’s longest-running barbecue festival. The festival has grown over the years to become what it is today, but it remains a family affair, organized and executed by church parishioners and their families.
Bill Lang, a member of the church’s Knights of Columbus chapter 4304 and media chair for the festival, said he and his wife made the festival a family tradition, and their children continue it to this day.
“Over the years, both of my children have been volunteered as part of their service hours at John Carroll Catholic High School and they have continued during college and beyond. … This has become a great tradition in our family,” Lang said. “We celebrate our freedom while helping others in the process.”
Lang has been volunteering for the festival for the past decade. He began by manning the game booths along with his wife and two children.
“Our daughter went to the Our Lady of Sorrows School and it was a fun way to volunteer together while raising money for local charities,” he said.
Over the years, Lang and his wife grew more and more involved in the event, helping organize the Trash and Treasure sale and greeting those first visitors on the day of the sale.
“From greeting people to selling furniture and artwork, it is a great way to interact with people while working for a greater cause,” he said. “This year I hope (to) be getting more involved in the grilling aspect, but plan to be a greeter again to welcome the community to Our Lady of Sorrows and this historic festival.”
The hallmark of the festival includes the cooking and preparation of 6,500 pounds of slow-cooked barbecue – that includes pork butts, ribs, chicken, brats and sausages – which has earned it recognition among The Birmingham News’ “Birmingham’s Top 28 Food Festivals.”
On top of grilling and smoking a veritable truckload of meat, the festival includes games, a more than 10,000-item rummage sale and a raffle that doles out a total of $12,000 dollars to winners.
In addition to serving up more than 1,600 plates of food on the day of the festival, the Knights of Columbus sell a portion of the meat to people who take it out and make it part of their own celebrations.
“We see some of the same faces each year and it is great to welcome them back,” Lang said. “It is wonderful to greet new people, as well, and make them feel welcome at our event.”
According to Lang, after nearly 70 years, the OLS community works much like a well-oiled machine, with plenty of traditions and protocols in place to ensure that things run smoothly.
“Planning starts right after the event and really ramps up six months prior to the festival,” he said.
In mid-May, things really get going, with the Trash and Treasure shelving going up as the church begins collecting donated items.
After each year, the planning team evaluates what worked and what could use a little more attention, from games and food options to raffles and prizes.
Lang noted that the furniture area of the rummage sale “used to be under a tent and was prone to weather issues. A few years ago, the furniture and art items were moved under the parking garage.” The team has since added lighting and temporary walls to protect the furniture area.
The festival is one of the ways the church gives back to its surrounding community, opening its doors to the entire Homewood and greater Birmingham area for a day of food, fun and celebrations of Independence Day. It regularly raises tens of thousands of dollars, which benefit the church, OLS Catholic School and local charities the church supports.
This year’s festival will take place July 4 from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., with food served at $10 a plate, raffle tickets available for $5 each or $20 for a book and dozens of games available to play with the purchase of a wrist band.
The Trash and Treasure sale is taking place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For $5, the first 400 people in line will be able to enter an hour early. Additionally, a half-price sale of the remaining items will be held from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. on July 5.
Those who wish to pre-order bulk meat and side dishes can do so and pick up their orders at the cafeteria behind the church July 3 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For updates and more information, visit the Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church Facebook page.