HAVERHILL — Nearly 800 people had enjoyed a sampling of Armenian traditions by the end of the annual summer picnic at the Family Life and Cultural Center Sunday evening.
Generations of families who belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church at Hye Pointe, along with their neighbors, friends and passersby of the well-attended event enjoyed plates of fresh food, loud folk music and dance.
Interest seems to grow every year, according to Rev. Fr. Vart Gyozalyan, requiring nearly a full week of preparations and shuttles to bring attendees from overflow parking lots on the day of the event.
"It's not only Armenians," Gyozalyan said. "It's open to everyone. Sometimes attendance is in the thousands."
The picnic dates back to the first Armenians settling in the Haverhill area in the late 1800s, Gyozalyan explained. He takes pride in the event as a longstanding chance to preserve and share Armenian culture. The church hosts similar events in the spring and a two-day event in the fall.
"It's where we proclaim Christianity and keep our culture, the food, the music," Gyozalyan said.
Generations of families come together to make possible offerings of kebabs — lamb, chicken and beef — spinach pies, garden salads, piles of pilaf, flaky pastries and more.
They start cooking early, Azad Loosian said from behind a table filled with desserts.
"But there's never enough food," she laughed.
She, along with her deacon husband and their kids, are longtime fans of the gathering.
"It's family tradition," she said.
A trio of women who traveled to Haverhill from Malden and Lynnfield reminisced about signing the foundation of the new Boston Road church when it was constructed in 2017.
"It makes you think of your parents and your grandparents. All of this does," Seranoush Mujukian said, looking around at the crowd.
Meanwhile, men gathered in the back of the church behind smoking grills continually filled with meats like onion and parsley hamburgers, lamb and chicken on skewers.
"We cook until the food runs out," Mark Sahagian said. "We've been preparing for the better part of a week. We all have full-time jobs, so it's a lot. But it's worth it."
Like many, Sahagian can rattle off a list of milestones that he associates with the Armenian church: Sunday services during his childhood, marrying his wife and baptizing their babies.
At a picnic table, four generations of a family enjoyed his cooking.
Carol and Charles Bazarian, along with their daughter Michelle Beeny and her sons, were happy to spend family time in the sunshine.
"It's all about family for us," Beeny said. "The whole day is about family tradition."