Big crowds make their way to 35th annual Bloomin’ Festival on sunny Saturday morning

Crowds filled St. Bernard's campus for the 35th annual Bloomin' Festival as soon as the gates opened Saturday morning. (Nick Griffin for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – The gates opened for the 35th annual Bloomin’ Festival Saturday morning and thousands made their way to St. Bernard Abbey for the arts and crafts fair. Walking room was hard to come by within the first hour of the gates opening and the crowds showed no signs of slowing down. A long list of local vendors as well as vendors from across the country covered the campus along with live music, prizes and all the food you can eat.

The Bloomin’ Festival has become an annual tradition for many people from all over this part of the country. They return year after year to shop their favorite vendors, discover some new treasure, make a mini pilgrimage to the Grotto and take in a little local culture.

Event Coordinator Joyce Nix explained, “First of all, they know it’s a quality show. If you go on our Facebook page and just read some of the comments, I mean it’s very enlightening and uplifting to me as the promoter to read the kind comments that they leave about our students and our volunteers. But they also are very complimentary of the quality of workmanship that each one of the booths provide.”

Nix has been part of the Bloomin’ Festival for all 35 years of its existence.

Thinking back, she shared, “I’ve been part of the growing process, and I think this year’s festival is, by far, going to be one of the best you’ve ever seen at St. Bernard. But it is absolutely not possible without the support of our students, our staff, our employees; it takes every one of us to pull this thing together.”

One of those vendors that draws a crowd every year is the Monks’ Bread tent.

‘Brother Benedict Dyar became the Abbey’s assistant baker three years ago and took over as head baker of the monastery last year. Monks’ Bread has always been a popular attraction at the Bloomin’ Festival, but Dyar said he has seen it grow in popularity in just the few years he’s been involved. As a result, there is always a lot bread needed for the festival and the St. Bernard monks start getting prepared months in advance.

“We start about three months out from the festival and bake about 85 loaves a day,” Dyar said. “That’s on top of what we’re usually making so we’re producing a lot of bread. Usually, we get up to about 1,800 to 2,000 loaves ready for the festival.”

The recipe for the bread has been used at St. Bernard for decades but there have been subtle changes over the years. However, flavors like cinnamon raisin continue to go quickly every year and Dyar said he is proud of what they produce.

“It has developed slightly. We’ve taken out some ingredients, added some ingredients and sort of tweaked the recipe, but people have always been pleased with it,” he said. “It’s a good bread and I think the recipe came to us in the 1950s or so, so the monks have been making it a long time.”

If you’re reading this, you may not have much time left to get your loaf from this year’s festival. Dyar recommends getting there early to pick up some bread because it only becomes more popular every year.

“It’s developed in popularity over the years because word gets out and people learn about it and start eating it and I will say, with the development in the sales here at the Bloomin’ Festival, you have to get here early if you want some because it’ll go quick.”

The Bloomin’ Festival is open until 5 p.m. today and will continue tomorrow from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. Admission is a $5 donation to St. Bernard Prep School.

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Nick Griffin