The National Huckleberry Festival in Jay, Oklahoma has been a part of my life, all of my life. I remember my sister and her boyfriend trying to ditch me and my two brothers at the carnival. They’d go to the ring toss game and there we’d be. At the little fun house they’d go in one end and as they walked down the steps out the other end, my sister smiling and cooing, guess who was waiting for them. Yep, three little Cherokee boys. I was six and that was over 30 years ago.
When I think of the Huckleberry Festival, I smile in my heart.
One of the Oldest in the Country
The National Huckleberry Festival is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, huckleberry festival in the country. I know what you’re thinking, “There are others??” Yes, there are others, particularly in the Pacific Northwest (Oregon, Idaho and Washington). And yes, there are larger, flashier, big logo ones, but the one in Jay, Oklahoma, population 2000-ish, it is more than a festival for a wild berry that most people have never tasted and confuse for a blueberry. It’s a celebration of home.
I look back on all the years of the Festival and realize it hasn’t been put on for the past almost 50 years for tourist. It’s been put on every year for the country folks that come from all over Delaware County to have fun. They just invite other folks to join in on the fun. Kind of like calling the neighbors to enjoy a mess of wild onions when you have more than plenty. (That’s another blog story.) The National Huckleberry Festival is small town Americana at its best, with a twist. In this case, that small town Americana just happens to be Native Americana. You’ll find things at the Huckleberry Festival you simply can’t find any other place in the country or the planet for that matter. No kidding! Not on the 4th of July anyway!
Things You Will See and some things you will ONLY SEE at the National Huckleberry Festival
At this daylong annual festival you can expect all the trappings of small-town celebrations: a car show (a real one with points and trophies), a pageant (where small town beauties each hope to become Huckleberry Queen), a 5K run (“for the weird folks that think getting up before the chickens to run is fun”…says my father), a carnival and a parade (complete with fire trucks, sirens, horses, American flags and candy thrown from floats). There’s are even a frog and turtle races. But it also has things you will only see in Cherokee Country, like a hog fry (it is what it says…and it is delicious), a Cherokee Marble tournament (not your Grandpas marble game unless your grandpa was a traditional Cherokee) and of course, the multiple ways to eat the hard picked huckleberry.
If you’ve never had a huckleberry, now is your chance to mark it off the bucket list. You’ll find the little purple berry in the ever-popular Huckleberry Pancakes (gotta get up early for this one), milkshakes (they go fast) and everyone’s favorite, including mine, huckleberry pie. There’s even a pie auction! Last year’s winner, baked by a local Cherokee woman, brought $1000 (yes, ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS) and was bought by the Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
2017 National Huckleberry Festival
The National Huckleberry Festival coincides with Fourth of July weekend every year. In 2017 the big day of events is Saturday, July 01, 2017. Venues are scattered around town. Go to the Jay Chamber of Commerce website to get times and locations. You’ll have to wait till the 4th of July though to see the fireworks. Jay’s a stickler for keeping it on the 4th!