Celebrating our Heritage - Polish-flavored events and celebrations
By Robert Strybel, "The Polish Answer Man" Celebrating our Heritage - Polish-flavored events and celebrations

Why and how Poles celebrate namedays

by Robert Strybel, Polish/Polonian Affairs Writer

 ul. Kaniowska 24
01-529 Warsaw, Poland

            Both in Poland and across Polonia, the warmer months of the year provide numerous occasions for various fun, festivities and celebrations. Here are some of them.       

Majowka - May outing (pronounced: mah-YOOF-kah):  This is the name given to the year’s first picnics and outings. In our excessively complex, high-tech era there, this can mean nothing more than a family and/or group of friends getting together and heading for the nearest green patch of nature – a park, grove, woods, forest clearing, riverbank, etc. – with baskets of food and some blankets to spread it on and the picnickers on. If someone brings along an accordion, guitar or other instrument to entertain the gathering and/or accompany a sing-along, so much the better.

Swieto Polonii - Polonia Day (May 2): In 2002, the Senate of the Republic of Poland set aside May 2nd as a day to honor the world-wide Polonia which happens to coincide with World Immigration Day. All types of activities promoting Polonia’s history and achievements are very much in order. Since this year it falls on a Friday, it can be nicely combined with Third of May celebrations to forma Polish Weekend.

Swieto Flagi Polskiej – Polish Flag Day (May 2): Two years later Polish Flag Day was proclaimed. This is an occasion to display Poland’s white and red flag which in Polonia is often crossed with the Star Spangled banner. The proximity of Polish Constitution day (May 3) extends the opportunity for displaying Poland’s colors.

Swieto Trzeciego Maja – Third of May (Polish Constitution Day): The anniversary of Europe’s first written constitution has traditionally been celebrated wherever people of Polish heritage are found. The May 3rd anniversary of the Third of May Constitution is celebrated in the Church as the Feastday of Our Lady Queen of Poland. Typical commemorations include Holy Mass (often a field mass in an outdoor setting), parades, patriotic assemblies, flag-raisings, wreath-layings, banquets, Polish festivals and other festivities. Other things to consider are exhibitions at city hall, school, the public library or community center, an essay contest, lectures, discussions, symposia and concerts. If sufficient know-how and manpower is available, a play honoring the framers of the May 3rd Constitution could be staged. The sky is virtually the limit, and this year the opportunities are even greater because the occasion falls on a weekend. If it is too late to organize things this year, then maybe your club, parish or other group should already start thinking about  May 3rd, 2009.

NOTE: In addition to the Polish National Anthem (“Jeszcze Polska nie zginela”) and the religious anthem (Boze cos Polske…”), the rousing Third of May Mazurka is the ideal selection with which to commemorate Polish Constitution Day celebrations. The words and music to this and other patriotic and military songs are found in  Hippocrene’s Polish Heritage  Songbook and Polanie Publishers’ well-known Treasured Polish Songs.

Mazurek Trzeciego Maja

Witaj Majowa jutrzenko,
Swiec naszej polskiej krainie,
Uczcimy Ciebie piosenka
Przy zabawie i przy winie.
Refren: Witaj Maj, piekny Maj, U Polakow blogi raj!//

O Maja Trzeciego zorzo,
Pod Twoimi promieniami,
Przez armaty z laska Boza,
Idziem w Polske z bagnetami.
Refren: Witaj Maj, piekny Maj, U Polakow blogi raj!//


Third of May Mazurka

Hail May’s dawn so elated
On our homeland may it shine,
With a song we’ll celebrate it,
With amusement and with wine.
Refrain:  Hail May, lovely May, For us Poles a glorious day.//
May Third’s dawn enflames the sky,
Shine on us your radiance glowing,
Foes by God’s grace we defy,
Bayonets fixed, banners flowing
Refrain:  Hail May, lovely May, For us Poles a glorious day.//

Nabozenstwa majowe – May devotions: May has traditionally been the month set aside to honor the Najswietsza Maria Panna (Holiest Virgin Mary). It is the month of daily Marian devotions that include the rosary, Marian hymns and litanies as well as processions and crownings of statues of the BVM. These devotions are now less widespread than they once were, when Polish communities were more concentrated, but they continue across Polonia and are even being started from scratch at newly established Polish-American pastoral centers.  In a Pol-Am setting, on weekends the Marian devotions are often combined with a parish fair, fest, picnic or supper.

Written by Polish Jesuit, Father Karol Antoniewicz (1807-1852), this is one of Poland’s most beautiful Marian hymns typically sung at May devotions.

Chwalcie laki umajone

Chwalcie laki umajone,
Gory, doliny zielone,
Chwalcie cieniste gaiki,
Zrodla i krete strumyki

Co igra z morza falami,
W powietrzu buja skrzydlami,
Chwalcie z nami Pania swiata,
Jej dlon nasza wieniec splata.

 Ona dziel Boskich korona,
Nad Anioly wywyzszona,
Choc jest Pania nieba, ziemi,
Nie gardzi dary naszymi.

Praise the meadows

Praise the meadows draped in greenery,
Verdant hills and valley scenery,
Shady groves though which we wander,
Praise the springs, the brook’s meander.

 She can taunt the surging seas,
Fly the sky on wings of breeze,
Praise with us the Queen of Nations
Glory’s wreath – her hand’s creations.

 She crowns what God has created,
Above angels elevated.
Though She’s queen of earth and heaven,
Yet she finds our offerings pleasant.


Dzien Swietego Stanislawa - Feast of St. Stanislaus (May 8): Celebrated at nameday parties by the many Poles named Stanislaw, it becomes a major religious event in Krakow the following Sunday. There Poland’s bishops gather to lead a procession through the streets bearing the relics of Polish saints from Wawel Cathedral to the shrine at Skalka. In a Polonian setting, this would be the ideal occasion for the annual parish “odpust” (indulgence-fair) for parishes named after St, Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr. Special contests or prizes for all those in attendance named Stanislaw, Stanley or Stas might be considered.

Dzien Matki – Mother’s Day (US: May 11; Poland: May 26): This is the day we honor our Polish or Polish-American mothers and grandmothers with flowers and gifts. Consider Polish books, CDs, amber, crystal, folkcrafts or whatever their fancy happens to be. Perhaps we could treat them to a traditional Polish dinner at home or take them out to a Polish restaurant. Some Pol-Am clubs and parishes traditionally hold community Mother’s Day events. This often starts with Holy Mass, followed with a breakfast or lunch. A Mother’s Day banquet might also be considered. Appropriate entertainment might include a recitation of mother-related poetry, a choir or instrumental performance or folk-dance presentation.

Boze Cialo – Corpus Christi (this year: May 22): This feast honoring the Holy Eucharist usually falls in June, but due to this year’s exceptionally early Easter is being celebrated on May 22. Corpus Christi is not a legal holiday in America, it has become the practice to move the feast to the nearest Sunday. The main celebration is Holy Mass which ends with a procession in the surrounding streets.  Processing beneath a canopy, the priest bears the Eucharist in a Monstrance, with two more parish activists propping up his elbows. Girls in First Holy Communion dresses strew the way with flower, as altarboys perfume the airs with incense and jangle altar-bells. As they process to each of four outdoor altars, participants sing Eucharistic hymns, often to the accompaniment of a marching band. Marchers may include uniformed police, firemen, soldiers, veterans and scouts, folk-costumed youth, members of parish societies bearing religious banners, with rank and file parishioners following in behind. A parish fair, fest or picnic often follows the religious exercises.

Pochod Lajkonika –Tartar Hobbyhorse Parade (Octave of Corpus Christi): Since Corpus Christi is a solemnly religious experience, this more frivolous event is held on the following Thursday.  The Lajkonik, a memento of the 13th-centzury Mongolian invasion of Poland, is a bearded figure in  who prances about on a wooden hobbyhorse. (He actually walks on his own legs only holding a prop made to resemble the horse’s head and torso.) The parade wends its way through Old Krakow to the Norbertine Monastery with plenty of gags, fun and general merriment along the way. The Lajkonik figure also appears at other Krakow-themed fests and fairs and might be worth promoting more widely among our Polonia.

Swieto Pamieci –Memorial Day (May 26th): This is not a Polish-originated holiday, because Poles honor their dead on All Saints and All Souls Days (Nov. 1-2), but it has taken on a Polish flavor across Polonia. Pol-Ams gather around the Polish Soldiers’ Monument at Chicago’s Maryhill Cemetery to honor fallen servicemen with a memorial service and floral wreaths. Participants include War veterans, concentration-camp survivors, a Polish Boy Scout drum corps and highlanders in folk attire. Hymns and military selections are played by a parish brass band. Even if such trappings are locally unattainable, Polish and American flags can be placed on the graves of loved ones together with flowers and votive lamps. If a Memorial Day parade, festival or others community events are held in your area, be sure the festivities have a Polish presence.

Festyn Polski (Polish Summer Fest): Whether it’s called a Polish Fest, Pol-Am Festival, Polish Days, Polonian Jamboree or Parish Picnic, these summer events are always popular and are good fund-raisers to boot. Be sure to provide plenty of Polish-style foods, souvenirs and entertainment, and for ethnic flavor post notices in Polish as well as English. Set up a BUFET (food stand – with only one “f” in “bufet”!), OGRODEK PIWNY (beer garden), KAWIARINIA (café), KOLO FORTUNY (wheel of fortune) and STRZELNICA (shooting gallery) as well as holding a LOTERIA FANTOWA (raffle). Competitions could include a pierogi-eating contests and barrel, log, brick or frying-pan tosses to see who can throw them the farthest. Be sure to have Polish prizes for the winners.

Noc Swietojanska – St. John’s Eve (June 23): The Summer Solstice (the longest day of the year) coincides with the Feast of St. John the Baptist and has long been celebrated in Poland as Noc Swietojanska (literally: St. John’s Night). The two principal celebrations, both rooted in ancient mating rituals, are the bonfire and the candle-lit wreath.  Boys wanting to impress the girls would jump over the roaring blaze and girls would float candle-lit wianki (wreaths) down a river or stream. The boy that fished t out was to be her future spouse. The wianki tradition has been practiced over the years across Polish America in rivers, lakes and fountains. It may add an interesting touch to any picnics or outings being held on or around that date.

Dzien Ojca - Father’s Day (US: June 15; Poland: June 23): Most Pol-Am dads will not appreciate flowers the way our mothers might, but depending on their interests we can get them a good Polish-themed book, CD or DVD and/or a bottle of imported Polish spirits. (The choice includes: many brands of Wodka plus Zubrowka, Wisniowka, Winiak, Zoladkowa, Jarzebiak, Starka, Zlota Woda, Balsam Pomorski and many more.) You can treat tatus to a home-cooked Polish meal or take him out to a Polish club or restaurant for dinner. What about chipping in with bro and sis and send dad on an all-expenses-paid tour of  Poland. Some Pol-Am lodges, parishes and other organizations sponsor Father’s Day dinners, and a few actually hold a combined Mother’s and Father’s Day banquet. 

Swieto Niepodleglosci USA – US Independence Day (July 4): The Fourth of July is celebrated by Americans of different backgrounds, and Polonians have also added their own specific flavor to the event over the years. One way is to visit schools and/or set up exhibits at the city hall, local museum, public library, etc. highlighting the contribution of American Revolutionary War heroes Tadeusz Kosciuszko and Kazimierz Pulaski. Pol-Am lodges, parishes and Saturday schools can provide a Polish contingent (marching group, band, folk dancers, float, etc.) to take part in the local Fourth of July parade. And efforts should be made to have Polish goods and delicacies available at any Fourth of July festivals held in your area.