Vol. 9, Issue No. 27/2002

Announcing Polonia Day

Polonia's newest holiday
by Robert Strybel

In February of this year (2002), the Senate of the Republic of Poland adopted a resolution setting aside May 2nd as a day to honor the world-wide Polonia, including Polish émigrés, national minorities and their descendants. After Poland first regained its independence in 1918, the Senate became the official body in charge of the ancestral homeland's contacts with the Polish Diaspora worldwide. It resumed that role after Poland regained its independence the second time in the 20th century and the Senate, dissolved by the communist regime after World War II, was re-established.

According to the Marshal (speaker) of the Senate, Longin Pastusiak, May 2nd was chosen as Polonia Day because it happens to coincide with World Immigration Day. Also significant is its proximity to the Third of May, a national holiday in Poland, which is widely, celebrated by people of Polish ancestry the world over. Pastusiak recalled that the demand to create such a holiday had been pressed by the last World Polonia Convention held in 2001, but the former parliament did not have enough time to pursue the matter and was swept from power in last September's general elections.

In its virgin year, this occasion is being celebrated with a special Senate debate on Poland's relations with and assistance to Poles, people of Polish descent and Polish communities abroad. Prominent Polonians from around the world, including Polish-American Congress President Edward Moskal, have been invited to take part. The Polish Commonwealth Association (Stowarzyszenie Wspolnota Polska), a semi-official organization promoting Polish-Polonian ties, held a special concert, and Poland's media provided more information on the life and contributions of Poles around the globe. TV Polonia, Poland's worldwide satellite television channel, beamed Polonian-related news and features to viewers on different continents and for the first time reached audiences in Brazil, home to a million-strong Polonia.

Without knowing it at the time, in a sense I had anticipated this occasion 23 years earlier as vice-president of Michigan's Saginaw Valley Friends of Polish Culture. When readers of the 'Bay City Times' opened their broadsheet daily on May 3, 1979, for the first time ever they saw a full-page ad with the Polish eagle and the headline: SALUTING OUR POLISH AMERICANS ON POLISH CONSTITUTION DAY.
In addition to explaining the significance of the May 3rd holiday, Polonia's contributions on an international, national, state and local level were prominently highlighted. This was followed by a list of the parishes, businesses and individual sponsors whose contributions had made the ad possible. After of door stepping, phoning and driving around town I managed to raise the amount (back then I believe it was $800.) needed to take out a full-page ad. Never before had the general community received such a big dose of Polishness in the local press.

As the originator of this public-relations effort, I was rather proud of myself. That is, until I learned of an even more effective initiative in another heavily-Polish-populated Michigan town -- Muskegon. There, a local Polish-American group had rented a billboard to convey a message to inform the general community that 'October is Polish Heritage Month'. For a whole month, people on their way to work were exposed to an informative, pro-Polish message, and it cost less than the full-page ad with its brief one-day life span.

In addition to the above-mentioned press and billboard promotion, today's Polonia Day could be celebrated in the US with activities similar to those connected with Polish Constitution Day but with an added Polish-American focus. This could include an essay contest on a Polish-American, an exhibition of photos and mementos illustrating the history of the local Polonia as well as a concert, recital or dramatic presentation. This might be the perfect opportunity to remind Polonia and Americans of other backgrounds that the first Poles set foot in the New World 12 years before the Mayflower Pilgrims, helped create the New World's first native industry and even staged America's first successful civil-rights protest.

The contributions of Pulaski, Kosciuszko and other distinguished Poles and Polonians could also be recalled. In our multi-racial environment, it might not be a bad idea to remind people that Kosciuszko had asked his friend Thomas Jefferson to use his (Kosciuszko's) entire American fortune to buy, free and train black slaves to live as free men. Other suitable events might be a Polonia Day Festival, an awards banquet honoring outstanding local Polonians, a Polonia-themed dinner-dance, picnic or other social or even a Polonia Day athletic contest, marathon, cycle race or motor rally. A special Polonia Day mass on or near May 2nd could be celebrated in our churches, complete with a suitable sermon, traditional Polish hymns and a uniformed and/or folk-costumed contingent to lend splendor to the occasion. A social hour featuring genuine Polish refreshments could follow.

Whether, how and to what extent Polonia Day becomes a part of our Polish-American calendar remains to be seen. If our traditional Polish individualism is any indicator, the decision on whether to emphasize and how to observe this event will probably vary from one community to the next. Some organizations may prefer to celebrate it separately, others are likely to incorporate it into existing Polish Constitution Day festivities, and still others may decide to ignore it entirely for lack of local interest, resources and/or volunteers. And that is as it should be. Every organized Polonian event should be adapted to local interests, needs and circumstances. The failure to take such factors into account often leads to flops and frustration.

To you and yours: HAPPY POLONIA DAY!

Vol. 9, Issue No. 27/2002

The Summit Times

© Copyright 2002 by Andrzej M. Salski