Polonia in Northern California - events 2001

Polish Cultural Centers and Churches in Northern California

PULASKI DAY - Polonia's special occasion
By Robert Strybel

Since the emergence of America's organized Polonia in the latter half of the 19th century, the courageous figure of Kazimierz Pulaski has been one of our community's two most widely revered heroes, the other being Tadeusz Kosciuszko. Both of them exemplified that well-known Polish motto of "za wasza wolnosc i nasza" ("For your freedom and ours"). It is no wonder that both "heroes of two continents" have lent their names not only to countless Polish clubs and lodges but also to streets, squares, bridges and highways as well as a number of localities. Pulaski Day has long been celebrated on October 11th in memory of the day the 31-year-old Polish fell in battle in 1779 at the Battle of Savannah. The celebrations are often moved to the nearest weekend to provide greater exposure. Here are some ways in which swieto Pulaskiego, an important Polish-American occasion observed. The same suggestions hold true for Polish Heritage Month activities held throughout October.

Pulaski Day school or youth-group contests: The very start of the school year is a good time to announce a poster, essay or other contest for youngsters focusing on the life and contributions of Kazimierz Pulaski. Any public schools that bear Pulaski's name as well as Polish-American organizations named after him would be particularly suited to this project, although the lack of that appellation should not discourage such efforts. Whereas community-wide Pulaski Day activities are often held on weekends, in schools some form of commemoration could be held on October 11th itself if it happens to be a schoolday in a given year.

Polonian Saturday Schools, Polish Scouts, Folk Dance Groups and other organizations involving young people are the ideal groups to help popularize the Pulaski heritage among the younger generation. It shoul not be limited to Pulaski, however, and could touch on any aspect of Polish or Polish-American Polonian organizations with adequate potential, such as the local division of the Polish American Congress, might adequate might consider contests on a local, county, state, regional or national level. The contest itself should receive wide media publicity and the winners should get culturally appropriate prizes.

Pulaski Day Parade: It goes without saying that staging a parade is a gargantuan task. Starting such a tradition in a locality where no such event has ever been held or where it has been long since discontinued would be indeed be a costly and risky proposition. That does not mean it could not be done. Any community or organization considering such a project, however, would do well to do its homework well in advance. A year before the planned event would not be too early. But before a final decision to hold a Pulaski Day Parade was voted on, a dynamic trouble-shooter type or a committee of such individuals would be advisable to sound out the possibilities. This might include a local media and Internet survey as to whether there exists sufficient community interest in such a celebration. If an overwhelming majority is in favor, then further probing is required to determine what type of community participation (marching units, floats, high school bands, sponsorship by local merchants, etc.) can be expected. Only then can attention be focused on the actual logistics of the event (parade permit, police protection, program of activities, date, route, duration, etc.).

In most cases, communities that have not held Pulaski Day Parades so far would probably be better off putting up a local contingent and busing it to the nearest established Pulaski Day Parade venue. The best-known Pulaski day parades are held in New York and Philadelphia. The local division of the Polish American Congress should be able to inform you where such celebrations are held (check website: Your group may even be able to upgrade an existing parade by injecting more culturally appropriate substance such as:
- An appropriately attired participant on horseback representing Kazimierz Pulaski (the Polish general's last mount was a snow-white stallion);
- An appropriately uniformed contingent (on horseback if possible) representing the Pulaski Legion;
- A float depicting Kazimierz Pulaski and/or other prominent military leaders and freedom-fighters, including the Kings: Boleslaw Chrobry, Wladyslaw Jagiello, Stefan Batory and Jan Sobieski, as well as Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Marshal Józef Pildusdski, Gen. Józef Haller, Gen. Wladyslaw Sikorski; or a presentation of Polish military uniforms from the earliest times (10-11th centuries) down to the present;
- A float highlighting the four occasions on which Poland changed the course of world history: Legnica 1241 (preventing the Tartar invasion of Western Europe), 1683 (repulsion of the Turks at the gates of Vienna), 1920 (roll-back of Bolshevik hordes at the Battle of Warsaw) and 1989 (Solidarity-inspired collapse of the Soviet bloc);
- A float showcasing prominent Polish personalities (Copernicus, Chopin, Mickiewicz, Madame Sklodowska-Curie, Paderewski, John Paul II, Lech Walesa, Zbigniew Brzezinski) or scenes (possibly a tableau depicting the latter three dismantling the "iron curtain," the first Poles at Jamestown or local Polish pioneers or situations);
Note: The Polish personalities and situations suggested for the above floats may be presented as visual portrayals (large painted tableaux), appropriately garbed figures (mannequins), live actors in period attire or mannequins and/or actors appearing against an historically proper painted backdrop.

- A marching band or float-mounted instrumental group playing Polish marches and other ethnically appropriate patriotic music, popular songs of fellowship, Polish operatic arias and the march version of the best-known Polish folk songs; or a choir, chorus or glee club singing similar selections;
- costumed Polish folk dancers performing dances on the road surface and/or on a float-borne platform, preferably identified with banners sporting the name and locality of each group;
- other Polonian marching units (organizations, parishes, schools, scout troops, veterans groups, etc.) clearly identified with banners displaying the unit's name and locality of origin.

Pulaski Day Proclamation: In areas with a sizable Polish population it is not uncommon for a high-ranking public official (governor, county executive, mayor, etc.) to issue a proclamation honoring Kazimierz Pulaski. But these things do not just happen. Since public officials have various problems to deal with and different groups to accommodate, the initiative must come from the local Polonian community, one of its organizations or a local elected official of Polish ancestry. For obvious reasons, politicians of every nationality and political orientation tend to be quite accommodating in election years, as such exposure is regarded as a good vote-getting measure. Wherever the Pulaski Day Proclamation is an annual event, little more than a reminder is required. Obtaining a proclamation where this hasn't been standard practice may take a little more doing, Especially if one encounters officials who say: We don't do this kind of thing; if we do it for one group, we'll have to do it for all the others, etc., etc. If a proclamation is obtained, plenty of media coverage should be arranged to give the event as much publicity as possible.

Pulaski Day Exhibition: Depending on available resources and a suitable venue, an exhibition may be considered to draw public attention to the person, achievements and times of Kazimierz Pulaski. City hall, the local museum, a campus, school, parish, public library, conference hall, the clubrooms of a Polish-American organizations, etc. could be the venue of such a presentation. The exhibition could be accompanied with the sale of books, souvenirs and other mementos of Pulaski and his era as well as other items of general Polish interest. It could be an autonomous event or part of a multi-media presentation incorporating some of the other events suggested below.

Pulaski Day patriotic celebrations: A wreath-laying ceremony at the local Pulaski Monument may include a flag-raising ceremony (both US and Polish flags), the playing and/or singing of both countries' national anthems and the traditional gun salute, preferably by a uniformed honor guard. An invocation by a clergyman and a short address focusing on Pulaski's contributions to American independence by a leading elected official (few people nowadays enjoy long-winded speeches!) could be included. Most of the suggestions provided for celebrations of Polish Constitution Day, Memorial Day and the Fourth of July can be adapted to Pulaski Day observances (see above). As always, adequate media coverage should be arranged.

-- Pulaski Day Banquet and cultural program: Pulaski Day Banquets usually take place before or after parades in places where such parades are held, or may be organized as a separate event. This should not be just another "feedbag" on Polonia's banquet circuit, but a culturally memorable experience. That could mean the banquet hall's appropriate atmosphere conveyed by Pulaski and Revolutionary War décor, an historically suitable menu and even entertainment reflecting the ambiance of the late 18th century. A concert of music of that period or a play, skit or other presentation on Pulaski would be ideal for the occasion. The necessary script could be based on Leszek Szymanski's "Casimir Pulaski" and/ or David J. Abodaher's "No Greater Love - Kazimierz Pulaski."

The Summit Times

© Copyright 1998 by Andrzej M. Salski