All posts by Marcin Marszalek

Winter 2017 newsletter is out!

Our new newsletter is available for your viewing pleasure on our website. For those of you who receive the printed edition, it was sent out and you may already have received it. However, all of you can enjoy the digital edition by clicking on the images below. We have been busy and the newsletter was so big that we had to split it into two parts. You can also view all our previous newsletters in the NEWS & EVENTS / NEWSLETTER & MAILING LIST tab on our website. We hope you enjoy catching up on Polish Center’s news!

Part 1:

Part 2:

2017 Trip to Poland with the Polish Center

In July 2017, we will once again head to Poland on a heritage tour led by Sta? Radosz, our Executive Director. We will visit western and southern Poland, sleep in a castle, eat dinner in a cottage in Zakopane, visit a world-famous brewery, and a lot more. Please click the attached flyer for full information and detailed itinerary. Reservation deadline is March 31, 2017.

Read Our Latest Blog Posts

What Andrzej Wajda’s War Films Tell us About Nationality

Andrzej Wajda has been called the national director; his movies concerned not only Poland, its history and people, but also the idea of Poland. He explored history and human interaction. His cinema was one of search, a search for identity and meaning. He was strongly influenced by the 19th century Romantic movement and did not lose that influence no matter what themes he was exploring. Yet his patriotism could turn to sharp critique and he was not afraid to explore painful issues and dissected the question of national identity with a surgeon’s precision. In terms of explorations of human interaction, he was perhaps only second to Kieślowski in Polish cinema, if only because the latter had little interest exploring these topics through national questions. Those explorations led to accusations of nationalism as well as anti-Polish nihilism. These contradictions make sense however for a director who, while found the idea of Poland important, did not mythologize it to wash away past errors.

Wajda’s first cinematic success was the war trilogy Generation (1954), Kanał (1956) and Ashes and Diamonds (1958), each set during, or right at the end of the Second World War. Wajda filmed Generation while still a student at the Łódz film school. The resulting work was a compromise between an exploration of wartime heroism and Soviet-imposed censorship. Kanał, a positively claustrophobic movie follows a group of Home Army soldiers through the Warsaw sewers. The question the characters face is not about how they can win the fight; their fates are sealed and they have no possible way to come out victorious. The humanization of the characters transcends national questions and instead deals with the responses to extreme situations, depression, sense of defeat and loss of hope.

Wajda on the set of Katyn
Wajda on the set of Katyn
Transcending the national questions, Katyń (2007), a film Wajda made towards the end of his life, deals with the army officers, members of the intelligentsia, priests, lawyers, etc. Wajda not only deals with the situation of the prisoners and their stoic and rather heroic approach to their situation, yet also explores the avenues and responses to the massacre of civilians and family members of the victims. Soviet authorities and the Polish puppet government blamed the Nazis for the crime and any mention of Soviet guilt was met with swift reprisal. Thus, the population faced decisions of how to react to the Katyń massacre and Wajda explored each of those responses and their consequences. Some could not accept the official lie and paid for holding on to the truth with their careers and even lives. Yet others went along with the official story because there was still a country to be fought for, if only not on the battlefield. The cities had to be rebuilt, economy restructured and lives to be lived, if only for the next generations. Thus, Wajda sees each of these as a response, yet makes little judgement as to whether any of them are preferable or “right.” After all, do not each of them seek to preserve the idea of Polishness?

Prisoners recreating Matejko's Battle of Grunwald
Prisoners recreating Matejko’s Battle of Grunwald
Wajda explored the question of how to move on in other films as well. Landscape after Battle (1970), set in a just-liberated concentration camp and sometimes critiqued for portraying a camp devoid of Jews (later a convoy joins the Gentile Poles), the film explores the value of living after the Holocaust. Based on an autobiographical story by Tadeusz Borowski who survived Auschwitz and Dachau only to commit suicide in 1951, the film shows the intellectual Tadeusz traumatized by his experience of the war. He turns cynical, asocial and unfriendly towards everyone. He prefers to be locked up in isolation and read books. When he interacts with others, he is confrontational. Nina, a Jewess attempts to persuade Tadeusz to run away with her but he is unable to raise himself from the stupor the war put him in. He is passive, incapable of leaving Poland, and erasing his Polishness; as he states: “a country is not just a landscape; it is a people, traditions, language.”

Landscape After Battle tells a story of trauma and of the complex relations between Poles and Jews as represented by the two main characters. The trauma shows that the two had to relearn basic activities and feelings like compassion and love which the war stifled in them. Borowski asserted that “the living are always right against the dead,” a statement which can be interpreted to mean that humanity must survive and a person cannot be alive without empathy.

Jakub Gold with his mother in the Warsaw Ghetto
Jakub Gold with his mother in the Warsaw Ghetto
The question of Polish-Jewish relations was one that Wajda brought up in other films, such as Samson (1960) and Korczak (1990). Each set during the war, Samson tells the story of Jakub Gold, a young Polish Jew who spends his life in multiple prisons, both physical and emotional. The fact that no Polish actor could be found to portray the titular role attests to the reality of the tragedy that was the Holocaust. Serge Merlin, the French actor who eventually portrayed Jakub, is the physical opposite of the biblical character; short and diminutive, he could only portray Samson by contradiction, and performed masterfully. Torn by guilt and tormented by the souls of Jews who suffered and died while he survived, Jakub was paralyzed and unable to take action since he would be shot as soon as he was discovered. He asserts he is prepared to die but not because of the face he has; he is prepared to die for a cause but not because of how he is perceived. He is not similar to the Romantic heroes and instead embodies the Jewish people living in complete alienation and abandonment by the world yet finds strength to survive and sacrifice his life for a just cause.

Korczak leading "his" children to the trains.
Korczak leading “his” children to the trains.
Korczak, a film about the well-celebrated pedagogue Janusz Korczak, transcends the national division of a Polish and/or Jewish hero to become a universal paragon. Completely devoted to the care of orphans, the real life Korczak surprised his friends when in prewar Palestine he accepted Arab children in his orphanage. The Korczak of the movie did much the same; when asked what he will do when the war is over, he answered that, naturally, he will become a director of an orphanage for German children.

Much like the characters in his films, Wajda, despite a strong Romantic tie and love of the country of his birth, did not succumb to a simple definition of his identity and saw it as a complex interworking of many, sometimes conflicting histories. This can be seen in the closing scene of Landscape after Battle, when the soldiers in the camp perform a live recreation of Jan Matejko’s Battle of Grunwald. Prisoners, dressed in Polish and Teutonic clothes, stand still in poses, then change them as if participating in a photoshoot, all of it playing out as we hear the music of Chopin’s Polonaise op. 53, perhaps the most majestic of polonaises but which only makes the scene even more ridiculous. Wajda points to the absurdity of obsession with national mythology and instead views people for their humanity. “His” Poland was one that was home of good and bad people who lived together and interacted for centuries whether they were heroes or cowards, good or evil. He was a national director who never forgot nationality, only preferred to see it through the prism of human interaction.

Golf Scramble to benefit the Polish Center of Discovery and Learning

The Orchards Country Club—18 Silverwood Terrace–South Hadley, MA 01075

Monday, June 15, 2015
10:30AM – 6:00PM

Registration fee $125 per person/$500 per foursome

Dinner only $35.

Featuring a Donald Ross course.
Networking on the course (on a Monday!).

10:00-10:30 a.m. registration.
Lunch 10:30-11 a.m. Orchards Golf Pro, Jon Banas, will give a golf lesson and demonstration on chipping and putting.
11:00 -11:45 am lunch with grilled kielbasa, hot dogs and hamburgers, salad, chips, beverage.
12: 15 noon shotgun start.

Dinner following golf: Polish Dinner with home-made pierogi, golumbki, cabbage rolls, sliced pork, dilled cucumbers, rye bread, dessert and coffee.

Team Format (A) Men and (B) Women and (C) Mixed Gender.
Make your own foursome or let us assign you to a groups. Singles are welcome.

Grand Prizes for Hole-in-one.
Silent auction and raffle.

Available sponsorship Categories

Platinum –Two foursomes, golf carts, lunch and buffet $1,500
Gold—One foursome, golf cart, lunch and buffet $1,000
Silver—Two golfers, golf cart lunch and buffet $750
Tee/Green/Practice $100

For more information call Joan Marsh at (413) 734-7052 or Ed Dzielenski at (413) 567-3132 (nyd11@aol.com).

Make checks payable to the POLISH CENTER and mail to:

Pieciak & Co CPA
Attn: Linda Polish Center
488 Newton Street
South Hadley, MA 01075

Enigma and Kosciuszko in the news

After seeing the superbly acted and directed Imitation Game, I decided to write a bit about the history of Enigma since Poles don’t necessarily get the credit they deserve in the film. Whereas the film wonderfully highlighted an important contribution to the war effort, as well as the personal tragedy of Alan Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and the fight for women to have equal opportunities in men-dominated fields, the film’s overall treatment of the Polish mathematicians and cryptologists leaves something to be desired.

However, as I was working on this article, I found a superbly written letter by the Ambassador of the Polish Republic to the UK which highlights precisely these issues. Thus, I will limit myself to general comments and you can read his article for more details here.

Rejewski, Rozycki, Zygalski
Rejewski, Rozycki, Zygalski

The film stresses that the world thought Enigma unbreakable but Turing, played by Cumberbatch, confidently asserted that he should be allowed a go and then we’d know for sure. Confident remark considering that Marian Rejewski, with the help of Henryk Zygalski, Jerzy Różycki and French-supplied materials broke the Enigma in 1932 using math and not linguistics. At the same time, the British and French intelligence, despite obtaining cipher keys from a German spy were not able to break the code. Increasing complexity added to Enigma made it more and more difficult to break the codes and required ever increasing manpower. So, in 1938, Rejewski built a machine, called bomba kryptologiczna, to speed up the process. The bomba did the work of a hundred workers. The Polish contribution, as mentioned in the film, was that the Poles smuggled Enigma out of Berlin, and that the Enigma Turing was about to break was infinitely more difficult. It seems strange the writers of the script would opt for that considering the Polish contributions to breaking Enigma are well known and it’s often quoted as one of the Pole’s greatest contributions to the war effort. If that was not enough, the first time Enigma was broken during the war was in 1940. In France. By the aforementioned gentlemen. In the presence of Alan Turing. One wonders if the British would have even employed mathematicians if they haven’t seen the Polish contributions since up to that point, linguists were working on decoding. A 1979 Polish film called Sekret Enigmy highlights the three mathematicians. One scene shows the Poles giving their British and French counterparts all their documentation and two copies of Enigma built by the Poles. The only condition is that the Poles be given credit for what they’ve done.

Tadeusz Kościuszko

This past week or so, a bit of a storm brewed in the Polish-American circles after an article in the Hudson Valley Magazine quoted Paul Ackermann, identified as a museum specialist with the U.S. Military Academy Museum, who opined that Kościuszko’s legend is “extremely overrated,” claimed that he “learned on the job, but was not a highly skilled engineer,” and that “[h]is only wound in seven years of service was a bayonet in the buttocks while leading an unsuccessful siege.”

Kosciuszko
Kosciuszko

This lead to a strong reply from Alex Storozynski (addressed to Lt. General Robert Caslan, Jr., Superintendent of the United States Military Academy) who pointed out not only pointed out that Kościuszko studied with the best engineers in Europe, but that a great number of historians confirmed his incredible role during the fight for “your independence and ours.” Kościuszko’s advice was not followed at Fort Ticonderoga, and the British took the fort. In the battle of Saratoga, Americans followed his advice, won the battle, and turned the war in their favor. As to his war injuries, the doctors that examined Kościuszko at the end of his life were surprised he could still stand due to all his injuries. Actually having an officer school was Kościuszko’s idea, which Jefferson followed.

Some of his non-military ideas included equal rights for Blacks, Jews, serfs, Native Americans and women. During the Kościuszko Uprising he created the first Jewish army since biblical times, and wrote in his will that the money the American government owed him should be used by his good friend Thomas Jefferson to free and educate slaves. Due to his inborn nature, he refused promotion a number of times until George Washington wouldn’t hear of it. He also composed a polonaise for the harpsichord which would become a popular patriotic song during the 1830 Uprising in Poland.

Just as Enigma, this is a strange choice, perhaps Kazimierz Pułaski would have been an easier target? Yes, he is the father of American cavalry but he was cocky. On the other hand he saved Washington’s life and died for liberty.

Dr. Anthony Bajdek, founder and president of the American Association of the Friends of Kosciuszko at West Point and Lt. General Edward Rowny, 1941 Academy graduate also wrote to Lt. General Caslan to express their shock and disbelief at the statements. Lt. General Rowny is responsible for setting up a fund which upkeeps Kościuszko’s Garden at West Point.

A reply from Lt. General Caslen,stressed that there would be no West Point without Kościuszko and that Paul Ackermann’s statements are not represent the official views of the Academy, but asserted that Paul Ackermann has the right to his own, differing opinion.

Greater Poland Uprising 1919

As World War I was drawing to a close and the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, Western Europe erupted in euphoria of victory and Eastern Europe erupted in chaos. The signing and the defeat of Germany did not solve many issues of frontiers in Eastern Europe and with many nationalities hoping for a creation or recreation of an independent national state, there was still a lot of work to be done.

Provinz Posen in the German Empire by shadowfox
Provinz Posen in the German Empire by shadowfox

Poles in Greater Poland seized the opportunity and staged a successful uprising in the Province of Poznań (ger. Provinz Posen) in Greater Poland. The uprising started on December 27, 1918 and ended on February 16, 1919 when the Entente powers renewed the truce which affected the Greater Poland region.

Let’s go back in time a little, Polish politicians had been working on recreation of the Polish state since the end of the 18th century. In fact, they never stopped. Ignacy Paderewski, a world-renowned pianist turned statesman was instrumental in stirring up pro-Polish sentiment in the United States and Western Europe during World War I. The Blue Army is just one example of that sentiment. Another is the support of President Woodrow Wilson.

The thirteenth of Wilson’s fourteen points stated that: “An independent Polish state should be erected which should include the territories inhabited by indisputably Polish populations, which should be assured a free and secure access to the sea, and whose political and economic independence and territorial integrity should be guaranteed by international covenant.“ As romantic and idealistic the sentiment was, it was also just as ambiguous.

Fighting in the streets.
Fighting in the streets.

On December 25, Paderewski returned to Poland and visited a number of towns and cities to tremendous ovation and euphoria. We should not underestimate his stature: being a world citizen and one of the most popular and successful pianists of his time in Western Europe and the United States he had many influential friends (including the aforementioned President Wilson). Being a fervent patriot, he used his international influence to further the Polish cause. His presence in Greater Poland was seen as dangerous by the Germans since the region had a major Polish population. When the pianist arrived in Poznań, he was received at a banquet at Hotel Bazar and was met by children waving banners, people singing patriotic songs, parades and a general state of excitement. On December 27, the Germans organized a parade of their own, and the soldiers of the 6th Prussian Grenadier Regiment were breaking into private houses to rip up and stomp the Polish, French, and American flags the Poles displayed. The soldiers also reportedly defaced the building of the Supreme People’s Council. By 5:00pm, the situation was getting out of control and shots were fired. The uprising began.

Some things require more detail. The partitions of Poland which took place at the end of the 18th century ended the experiment that was the Commonwealth of Both Nations. Poland ceased to exist as an independent state and was absorbed by the three partitioning powers. Political life and hope of independence did not stop in any form however, and its most extreme examples were the suicidally ambitious insurrections in 1794, 1830, 1861 and 1905. (It is interesting to note that the Greater Poland Uprising of 1806 was successful, like its 1919 counterpart, as it helped create the Duchy of Warsaw under the patronage of Napoleon.)

Members of the Supreme People's Council
Members of the Supreme People’s Council

The political life of the nation never faltered and World War I offered new hope as the partitioning powers were, for the first time, on opposing sides of a conflict. In 1916, the Interparty Committee opened as an underground (read, illegal) organization which advocated peaceful takeover of the Poznań region. After the armistice, it was renamed the Supreme People’s Council (the one attacked by the German soldiers). The peaceful approach did not work and the Council took leadership over the nascent uprising that started before the new year.

Paramilitary organizations were a dime a dozen in the partitioned lands and (this is not much of an exaggeration), it was thought that the only pursuit a Pole should concern him or herself with at the time, was preparing for an uprising. Because you just never knew when the chance would present itself. One such organization was the People’s Guard, but there was a whole underground network which also included the Polish Military Organization and the Guard and Security Service among others. The second was actually a German organization which was made up of Poles and Germans in which Poles worked secretly to prepare for an uprising and learned infrastructure. Because, you know, Poles never make anything simple.

Franciszek Jach
Franciszek Jach

An interesting anecdote tells the story of how the uprising got its first plane. When Paul Pohl, German pilot, was ordered to take the Albatros D.III plane to Berlin from Poznań, he was reluctant to do so because of the chaos going on in Berlin. Pohl’s friend and fellow pilot, a Pole by the name of Franciszek Jach told Pohl to take the plane to Jach’s family farm in the country and he would receive…. kiełbasa. Having already tasted the homemade goodness, Pohl and Jach flew the plane north where they landed in the field and local peasant helped push the plane into a large barn (oh, the great early days of flying). The insurgents then proceeded to “inform” Pohl that they will take over the plane. Seeing the hopelessness of the situation, Pohl did not put up a resistance but did receive the promised kiełbasa and was taken to the train station from where he went to Berlin.

Franciszek Jach and his brother spent the night painting the Polish Air Force checkerboard on the plane and spent the next day flying over the region. They were the first Polish pilots in the Greater Poland Uprising. The insurgents later attacked and took control of the Ławica airport in Poznań which allowed them to bomb the city of Frankfurt. And by that we mean they dropped 36 bombs (oh, the great early days of flying).

Statue commemorating the uprising. Photo by Radomil.
Statue commemorating the uprising. Photo by Radomil.

The insurgents took advantage of the demoralized German military that recently lost the war and by mid-January, they took control over most of the Provinz Posen. When the armistice was renewed in February to include the Greater Poland region, Poles were in charge of the province. When the Treaty of Versailles was signed later that year, Poland weas granted the lands won by insurgents as well as some areas of Pomerania, the cities of Bydgoszcz, Leszno, and Rawicz, not all of which had predominantly Polish populations. Many of the insurgents later fought in the Silesian uprisings of 1919-21.

Winter 2014 Newsletter

Our new newsletter is available for your viewing pleasure on our website. For those of you who receive the printed edition, it was sent to the printers and should be mailed out within a couple of weeks. In the meantime, you can enjoy the digital edition in the NEWS & EVENTS / NEWSLETTER & MAILING LIST tab on our website, or simply by clicking on the image below.

winternewsletter

Thank You and Top 10 Reasons to Support the Polish Center

Thank you!
Thank you!
Thanks to your generous donations, we have raised over $600 on Valley Gives Day, which is almost 3 times as much as we raised last year! This money help us in the running of the Center!

Here’s the complete list of the Top 10 Reasons to Support the Polish Center, 8 of which you may have already seen on our Facebook page but with less detail.

1. Digital Archives:
The archives are a new project that we started in the spring of 2014. A large portion of the current online archives are the papers of Felix Furtek donated by his grandson Rob Strycharz throughout the year. The online exhibits also include a collection of World War I postcards of Polish American volunteers in the Blue Army. The most recent addition is a 3d model of the Pulaski decanter that sits in our reception hall. With additional funds, we hope to further expand the archives and create more 3d models that are fun, interactive and educational.

2. Lectures and films:
We were able to co-organize a talk and film by Mr. Felix Molski along with the Irish Cultural Center. Mr. Molski talked about Paul Edmund Strzelecki, who, among his other exploits, explored New South Wales in Australia naming the continent’s highest peak after Tadeusz Kościuszko and saved 150,000 Irish children from starvation during the Potato Famine. We hope to bring more interesting and educational talks and films to the Polish Center.

3. Foster cooperation:
Classes from Elms College as well as local public schools came for a tour of the Polish Center and learned about the Polish community in Chicopee, Polish immigration to the US and general Polish history. In recent months, representatives of Elms College, Westfield State University, Krosno State College (Poland) and Polish Center were discussing further cooperation between the institutions. We want to improve and expand on our involvement with the local community.

4. Library:
The Polish Center houses a library of over 4,000 books which, despite not being our main area of acquisition, expands at an exponential rate. We are cataloging these books as they come in and are working on the materials we acquired before we had a comprehensive cataloging plan in place. Funds will help us implement an online library system where users will be able to browse and check out our books. Additionally, we will be able to digitize books not currently found on Google books or similar sites.

5. Community Service Award
During our annual Krakus Festival, we award the Community Service Award to members of our community who have selflessly donated their time and energy to support causes that foster the spirit of friendship and cooperation. Recent winners included Teresa Struziak Sherman and Congressman Richard Neal.

6. Exhibits:
We create new exhibits with the funds and donations we acquire. Thanks to a generous gift, we were able to build the Polish Cottage which receives high praise from everyone that visits it. Its atmosphere is truly impressive with the smell of Polish mushrooms and the light from the stove.
We are also currently working on expanding the Polish Americans in the Armed Forces Gallery thanks to another generous gift, and we will display World War I military medals and uniforms among other artifacts.

7. Trip to Poland:
This coming summer, we will once again organize a trip to Poland which will explore the well-known tourist attractions and lesser-known gems of Polish history and culture. Staś always organizes a great tour and everyone that attends has an incredible time, learns a lot about Poland and its history, and enjoys seeing the strongest post-communist economy in Europe.

8. Publications:
The Polish Center currently sends out a newsletter, an e-newsletter and we publish blog posts. The newsletters are concerned with the running of the Polish Center, what we’ve been up to and what we plan on doing. The blog posts also provide you with the opportunity to learn about Polish history and culture. Donations help offset the cost of printing our newsletter and sending it to your doorstep.

9. Genealogy classes:
The Polish Center, along with the Polish Genealogical Society of Massachusetts sponsored genealogy classes at the Chicopee Public Library where people were able to learn the basics of genealogical research and started looking up for family records and putting their family histories together. Talk of family histories is also seen among people taking tours of the Center.

10. Staś:
The efforts of many people and the financial backing of an even greater number is needed to run the Polish Center. However, it is Staś’s vision and perseverance that created the Center and his inspiration leads us to new and exciting projects. His leadership brings the best of all of us who donate our time, and his personality inspires any that meet him.

Archives highlight: Pulaski decanter

Over the last 6 months or so, we have been expanding our online archives by collections and exhibits, and we are always looking for ways to improve it. Recently, we decided to create a three-dimensional model of an artifact from our exhibit. As you may know, the Polish Center places a lot of value on developing a collection of physical artifacts of everyday people to preserve a history that is not often preserved. As Staś always says: “The Polish Museum of America may have Paderewski’s piano, but we have babcia’s pierogi board.” (I should add that we have a lot of other cool things, but babcia and her stuff is important.)

Recently, thanks to a monetary donation, we started working on improving and expanding our Polish-Americans in the Armed Forces Gallery. Part of the gallery will focus on Polish Americans who volunteered to serve in the Blue Army, or Haller’s Army, equipped by the French and who fought on the Western and Eastern Front of World War I before taking part in the Polish-Soviet War. Following World War I, these volunteers created veterans organizations to foster fraternity developed during the war. One of those organizations was the Polish Legion of American Veterans (PLAV).

To skip forward to 1976, the PLAV decided to celebrate the bicentennial of American independence by creating a decanter featuring General Kazimierz (Casimir) Pułaski (Pulaski) on a horse. Both of the horse’s front legs are up, telling us that the rider died in battle (Pulaski indeed died of wounds sustained in the battle of Savannah, Georgia). The decanter was given to the members of PLAV as well as important public figures, such as President Gerald Ford.

Pulaski decanter
Pulaski decanter

Forwarding again to Fall of 2014, with the help of Matthew Young, I had the pleasure of creating an exhibit highlighting the decanter and include a short bio of General Pulaski and a historical sketch of the PLAV. Eric Basile, our lead developer contacted a college friend of his, Desiree Fernandes, who was very kind to create a three-dimensional model of the decanter for your viewing pleasure.

The model, as it is now, allows for a much better experience by allowing you to view and rotate it to see it from all angles. It is quite fun and I encourage you to try it. We hope to be able to do more models in the future as time and resources allow. You can see the exhibit here.

The Feast of St. Andrew or, Wait, are Poles Pagans?

The Feast of St. Andrew falls on the last day of November. Perhaps best known in the United States as the patron saint of Scotland, the feast, known as Dzień Świętego Andrzeja in Polish, is preceded by a night of festivities on the night of the 29th known as Andrzejki. It is the last occasion to organize sumptuous parties before the Advent. And, as you can guess, since Poles are involved, it is quite a party involving food, drink, dancing and magic. We’ll focus on the traditional take of the feast since no one needs much explanation of “partying.”

Traditionally, the holiday was celebrated by single girls, and boys had Katarzynki, celebrated on the night of the 24th of November. The night was filled with magic, divination and witchcraft mostly meant to help a young girl find her future husband. Initially, it was celebrated individually as it was taken very seriously. More recently, it has grown to be a fun tradition and the magic is thankfully not seen as binding.

The most well known tradition is the pouring of hot wax from a candle through a key head (remember those really old giant keys? yea, those) into a basin of water. Once the wax cools, it solidifies and you can pick it up, and try to guess what the wax is based on the shadow it casts on a wall. The old tradition said you could divine the profession of your future husband but if one saw an angel, it meant good luck, an eagle meant reaching your goals, a heart great love. These days, the interpretation is even more open, for example: “I’m telling you that wax looked like a new Mercedes”.

wikimedia commons
wikimedia commons

Another tradition had young women take off their left shoes and put them in line one after the other from the farthest wall to the door. The lucky girl whose shoe first reached the door would be the first one to get married.

A number of lesser known traditions also abounded. Young girls would write down names of boys on pieces of paper and put them under their pillow. In the morning, they would pull out the name of their future husband. Listening to a dog bark would let the girl know from which side her husband would arrive. The abundance of dogs and their affinity for barking could probably make this a confusing and highly imprecise art, but, it was something. Dogs would also be used for other divination attempts: they would be thrown dough balls each meaning specific boys. Whichever the dog would eat first… you get the picture. A group of girls would bake cakes, smother them with grease, put them on a table and invite a dog as a judge. Whichever cake he would eat first belonged to the girl who would get married first. Geese did not escape these divinations: a blindfolded gander would stand in the middle of a group of girls that formed a circle around him. The girl he would approach or bite first would be the first to…, right, you know what.

wikimedia commons
wikimedia commons

A number of sayings and proverbs are also associated with the feast:

Na Świętego Andrzeja dziewkom z wróżby nadzieja – Saint Andrew’s Day gives girls hope in divination
Święty Andrzej wróży szczęście i szybkie zamęście – Saint Andrew bodes luck and fast marriage.
Gdy Święty Andrzej ze śniegiem przybieży, sto dni śnieg na polu leży – When Saint Andrew arrives with snow, it will lie on the field for a hundred days.

So what is it about Saint Andrew’s Day and fortunetelling? Like with many Polish traditions, its roots go to pre-Christian pagans. The time of year with its changing seasons was seen as especially magical and powerful allowing for contact with the spiritual world. As Saint Andrew’s Day precedes the beginning of Advent, the Christian time of reflection and spiritual contact with God, it was seen as fitting. Although those early Christianizers probably did not envision the pagan tradition surviving for so long.

http://gimnazjumgronowo.zxy.me/gge/?94,andrzejki
http://gimnazjumgronowo.zxy.me/gge/?94,andrzejki

These days, the pouring of wax and shoe-walking is still celebrated along with a lot of music, dancing, food and drink with friends and family. It is the last big party before Christmas, so take advantage of it, grab some wax and perhaps learn something about your future.