100 Things Every Polish American Should Do

An article by Stas Kmiec published in “Pol-Am Journal”

Do you consider yourself a true Polish American? Are you Polish in name only, or are you a “Practicing Pole?” Do you know the heritage and traditions of your ancestors? These questions were asked 10 issues ago, as we began the countdown marking the 100th Anniversary of the Polish American Journal.

As Americans, we tend to define ourselves by the country of our ancestors’ emigration, rather than where we reside. Should someone inquire about our nationality, how do we respond? Do we answer American? If the answer is Polish or Polish American is there a commitment to your ethnicity to back that claim?

It is not enough to be Polish when it is convenient. Before Karol Wojtyła became Pope John Paul II, many would deny their Polish background. Political aspirations can often bring out the “Polishness” in a candidate. Americans of Polish descent should appreciate and embrace the exquisite and heartfelt traditions of our ancestry. We should have knowledge and be aware of the connection we have with this vibrant country across the ocean. There is a responsibility to those who struggled and died to keep their nation and heritage alive.

This ideology falls on deaf ears with various church officials, as we see the cultural anchor of our existence — the Polish “ethnic” church being swept away in a flood of closures.

The lack of interest and views of many Polish Americans may reflect those of Polish society. Many in Poland simply do not consider 3rd, 4th and 5th generation Polish-Americans to be Polish, especially when they can’t speak Polish?

When putting together 100 for 100, I did not pursue the listings in a “politically correct” manner. While aware that today’s Polish Americans represent a diversified cross-section of race and religion, I am also aware of the demographics of the majority of PAJ subscribers. The listings are suggestions for Polish Americans to explore and select as applicable.

To my amazement, I have encountered many Poles of the Jewish faith who do not know anything of the culture and traditions of the Polish Jewish village shtetl or even their city roots. Their knowledge begins with Israel. Given history’s brutal blow, this may be understandable.

Then there are the Poles of the Catholic faith who do not know and are not even aware of the rich traditions of Easter and Christmas. Inter-ethnic marriages, along with the “American melting pot” theory can be attributed to this shift in cultural distinction.

There are many aspects of the Polish and Polish American experience. Given the centuries of Polish existence, the learning period never ends. It is my hope that from the 100 list, readers with explore and learn something about their heritage, hold on to it like a cherished possession and then pass it on to the next generation.

The Off-Broadway play with the misunderstood and controversial title — Polish Joke (reviewed in PAJ back in 2003) transformed ethnic discrimination, stereotypes and jokes into a thought provoking comedy.

The play, written by Polish American playwright David Ives, had a climactic speech in which a LOT Polish Airlines worker confronts Jasiu (who experiences an unexpected stop in Poland while on route to Ireland), on being Polish — delivering a moving passionate litany about ancestral pride in one’s heritage:

OLGA: Do you love Poland?


OLGA: (excerpts) Then you are not Polish… You are ashamed of Poland, ashamed to think you are Polish, and you tell me you are Polish? …You read Shakespeare. Do you read our poets? Kochanowski, Szymborska, Miłosz, Herbert, Mickiewicz? You listen to Bartok and Beethoven, but do you listen to Penderecki, Lutosławski, Górecki and Szymanowski? Then you are not Polish… [You’re ashamed] because we are not Americans. The Nazis killed three million Poles, not only the Polish Jews, three million Poles. Catholics. Lutherans. Exterminated. Who says this? Who makes movies about this? You don’t want to be Polish… be American Jasiu, but get out of the country that I love — that I live in every day and that I love.”

In today’s world of lost identity, it is important to know who you are, the roots from which you come from, and what your background represents. Take the time to reflect upon what it means to be a Polish American in today’s world. Being Polish in name or origin only is not enough. Show pride in your Polish and Polish American heritage.

  1. Learn the standard version of “Sto Lat,” and sing it at all birthday parties. Bonus: if you learn the waltz version and góralskie mountain versions
  2. Buy a Polish cook book and start learning and experimenting with your Babcia’s cherished recipes
  3. Learn the the Sign of the Cross, the “Lord’s Prayer” (“Ojcze Nasz”), and “Hail Mary” (“Zdrowaś Maryjo”) in Polish
  4. Find a Polish church and attend Mass conducted in Polish
  5. Digitally transfer your favorite Polish and Polka 78, 45 or 33 1⁄3 rpm recordings to audio CD.
  6. With blessed chalk, mark the lintel of your entry door with the initials of the three Wise Men and the year (20 K+M+B 11) on the feast of the Epiphany (January 6), if you cannot find a priest to do so
  7. Listen to a broadcast of the Fr. Justin Rosary Hour.
  8. Write to your cousins or relatives in Poland
  9. Display the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa and Pope John Paul II in your home, along with plaques of “Boże błogosław nasz Dom” and “Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus”
  10. Order your homemade Polish kiełbasa sausage and other meats from a Polish butcher or delicatessen
  11. Relate your love to your wife/husband, girlfriend/boyfriend by frequently stating “Ja cię kocham,” and encourage them to return the gesture, even if they are not Polish.
  12. If no longer needed, donate your collection of Polish books and archives to a well-known and respected Polish archive, such as the Polish Mission at Orchard Lake Schools’ Polish and Rare Book Collection.
  13. Support Polish and Polish American authors by buying, reading and promoting their books.
  14. If not stocked by your grocer, ask them to carry quality pierogi – a significant step above mass-produced brands.
  15. Invite your neighbors, friends or business associates for a dinner of traditional Polish favorites, or a sampling of Polish liqueurs with Polish desserts and coffee.
  16. Conduct, record and document an oral history of a relative or another person regarding their Polish or Polish-American experience.
  17. The next time you call your Polish grandparents, uncles and aunts, address them with their Polish titles – babcia (grandmother), dziadziu (grandfather), wujek (uncle), or ciocia (aunt), as appropriate
  18. Pay homage to deceased members of your family by arranging a requiem mass at your parish, and attend the mass. Arrange that a Polish choir or soloist sings, or that the organist plays Polish hymns.
  19. Read a book on Polish history or check an internet site documenting Polish history.
  20. Preserve your lineage by designing a family tree chart, or join a Polish genealogical society to assist with the discovery of your roots in Poland
  21. Experience Polish pączki. Make them, order them or buy them at a Polish bakery. Not jelly doughnuts, pączki dough is traditionally made with made with a small amount of pure grain alcohol – spiritus or rum and filled with plum jam or wild rose hip jam.
  22. Attend one of many public events at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington or a Polish Consulate in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles
  23. Learn the words and melody of Poland’s national anthem “Jeszcze Polska nie zginęła” (Poland Has Not Yet Perished), and the religious anthem, “Boże, coś Polskę” (God Save Poland).
  24. Attend a Polish-style pre-Lenten festivity such as Zapusty, Ostatki, Karnawal, Pączki Day or a Pączki Ball for a last bit of merriment before ushering in 40 days of fast and penance for Lent.
  25. Try making homemade pierogi: find a relative or family friend to teach you or organize a pierogi-making circle – allowing the older generation to enlighten the younger and pass on this cherished tradition.
  26. Take a Polish language class to familiarize yourself how to read and write and achieve basic conversation travel skills. If you can not find an area location, take a Polish language course in Poland and open a whole new world of communication.
  27. Attend Droga Krzyżowa (Stations of the Cross) and participate with Ojcze nasz (“The Lord’s Prayer”), Zdrowaś Maryjo (“Hail Mary”), Chwała Ojcu (“Glory Be to the Father”) and the response, “Jezu Chryste, zmiłuj się nad nami” (Christ, Have mercy on us.).
  28. Read The Polish Way: A Thousand-Year History of the Poles and their Culture by Adam Zamoyski.
  29. Join a Polish church, choir, dance troupe, club, organization or foundation and be connected to your heritage.
  30. Participate in the uniquely Polish ceremony Gorzkie Żale (Bitter Lamentations).
  31. On Palm Sunday, fill a vase with pussy willows and display in your home, along with Polishpalmy sticks and Palmowe Tkania (weaved palms).
  32. Visit seven churches on Holy Thursday.
  33. Learn how to create wycinanki (Polish paper cutouts).
  34. Decorate your Easter table and basket with homemade pisanki (Polish Easter eggs) decorated by numerous regional styles and techniques.
  35. Prepare a traditional Polish Easter basket and have your foods blessed.
  36. On Easter Monday surprise your family or loved one with a sprinkle of water and the phrase “Śmigus-Dyngus.”
  37. Say the chaplet of the Divine Mercy and follow the life of St. Faustina (Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska); The Sunday after Easter is Divine Mercy Sunday – May 1, 2011
  38. Donate a Polish themed book (s) of history, biography, cooking, or culture to a local library or school
  39. Cook a pot of bigos — Polish Hunter’s Stew
  40. Organize all of your mother and grandmother’s Polish recipes by typing them into a word processing file and distribute them to your family
  41. In commemoration of Polish Constitution Day on May 3rd (Trzeci Maj) arrange that the Polish flag is flown at your City Hall (organize that the press attend the ceremony); make sure you fly the Polish flag in front your homestead; wear red and white and a Polish flag pin.
  42. Learn how to dance the Polish national dances: Krakowiak, Polonez, Mazur, Kujawiak andOberek, along with the Trojak; then learn the Polish American versions of the Polka andOberek.
  43. Document famous and unique Polish churches in your area (those that still exist and those that are gone). Start with photographs and a brief history, and continue with interviews of older parishioners. Submit your research findings to your local library and the Orchard Lake library archives.
  44. When making a philanthropic contribution, attach a recognizable Polish name to the donation. If your name is not recognizable use a hyphenated maiden or family name, or distinguish the name in parentheses.
  45. Teach or influence a Polish-American boy or girl about their heritage by giving them a book, CD, or DVD. Invite them to a Polish event, and teach them basic words and phrases in Polish.
  46. Visit the Polish Museum of America and the Polish Genealogical Society in Chicago, The Polish Cultural Center and Museum Exhibit Hall in Philadelphia or any Polish museum in the United States.
  47. Learn about Poland’s first native saint, Stanisław of Szczepanów – the patron of Poland, venerated in the Roman Catholic Church as Saint Stanislaus the Martyr.
  48. Visit www.WUNH.org to listen online to The Polka Party with Gary Sredzinski as it is being broadcast – Saturdays, 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. EST; it’s a combination of Polish American and Polish folk music, with history, customs and culture thrown in. Listen to: Polonia Today – Sundays 1:30 to 2:00 p.m. 1540 AM with hostess Debbie Majka (Webcast: www.wnwr.com;www.polishamericancenter.org/Additional.Radio.htm).
  49. Find a Polish deli: buy food products from Poland – Polish mineral water, canned foods such as: pickles, beets, kapusta, and treat yourself to freshly made rye bread and pastries.
  50. Learn about Polish Constitution Day commemorating the Constitution of May 3, 1791 (Konstytucja Trzeciego Maja). Check out: www.wikipedia.org.
  51. On the night of June 23 hold a St. John’s Midsummer Night’s Eve (Sobótka Świętojańska) party in your backyard, by a flowing river or lake, or organize a community event. Float candled wreaths in your pool, jump over an open fire pit, sing the traditional songs. Learn about this ancient custom and familiarize yourself with Poet Jan Kochanowski’s Pieśń Świętojańska.
  52. Establish connections with relatives in Poland, write them, visit them, invite them to visit you.
  53. Attend summer Polish Festivals in your area, and at American outdoor festivals visit and support the Polish food booth.
  54. Order “Polish” tomatoes and grow them in your garden or on your deck.
  55. Stand up against anti-Polish behvior. Send responses (respectfully and factually) when necessary and request that newspapers and magazine print a correction when German death camps in Nazi-occupied Poland are labeled as “Polish Death Camps.”
  56. Visit Panna Maria, Texas, America’s oldest Polish settlement.
  57. Attend a Polka Mass.
  58. Familiarize your ear to the strains of Polish classical music. Listen to CDs or attend a concert of Chopin, Paderewski, Szymanowski, Moniuszko, or other composers.
  59. Experience the Polish cinema of classic masters such as Andrzej Wajda and Krzysztof Kieslowski or the newest film makers
  60. When traveling to Poland or in Europe opt to fly on Polskie Linie Lotnicze LOT (PLL LOT).
  61. Learn about the many saints of Poland.
  62. Learn about the complex history of Poland and its ever-changing borders.
  63. Learn about the minority cultures of Poland’s ethnic mix.
  64. Research and own a Polish costume (possibly from the area of your family’s origins); wear it correctly and whenever appropriate.
  65. Expose yourself to and be aware of Poland’s current modern culture – the new artists of Polish literature, art, poetry, music, theater, film, and dance.
  66. Visit the Polish American Cultural Center and Museum in Philadelphia or the Polish Museum of America in Chicago.
  67. Learn about the Kings and Queens of Poland.
  68. Learn about Fr. Leopold Moczygemba (“Patriarch of American Polonia”). Visit his burial place in Mount Elliot Cemetery, Detroit, Mich.
  69. When traveling, find a Polish restaurant in the area and sample their cuisine.
  70. Purchase a Polish flag and display it proudly.
  71. Bring a bouquet of flowers and herbs to Church on the feast of Our Lady of the Herbs – Matka Boska Zielna (Assumption, August 15).
  72. Celebrate the Harvest by attending or having your own traditional Dożynki, Święto Plonów.
  73. Visit and attend Mass at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Częstochowa in Doylestown, Pa.The Polish American Festival occurs during the first two weekends in September.
  74. Read books concerning the Poles during World War II, such as A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron, and stories of courage and survival during this period; and read about a vibrant, colorful Poland before the war in Warsaw: The Cabaret Years.
  75. Learn about or relay the experience of growing up in a Polish neighborhood in the United States.
  76. Send your children or grandchildren, or attend a summer youth program, such as to the ACPC’s “Youth Leadership Conference” in Washington, Polish National Alliance’s Youth Camp, or a summer camp in Poland.
  77. Keep an eye out for products made in Poland and equip your home with such items as Bolesławiec pottery and Polish crystal.
  78. Learn about the Polish Catholic Church and the Polish National Catholic Church in the United States.
  79. Increase your music library or discover older recordings. Hold a “Polish Record Swap,” where people can bring in to trade or sell vintage Polish or polka 33, 45, and 78 r.p.m. recordings, or to swap digitized versions of the originals. Keep this music history archived for the next generation.
  80. Learn where you come from. Document the village or town of your origins: research the history, discover family photos, visit and take new photos — preserve the memory.
  81. Keep Polonia and Poland alive on the airwaves.  Ask local radio programs to mention your area Polish American events (every radio station is required to give time for public service announcements).  Ask stations to play selections written by Polish composers over the centuries and recorded by internationally famous artists.
  82. Create a network of Polish and/or Polish American friends from diverse backgrounds and even religions to share perspectives, interests and endeavors.  Facebook and Yahoo Groups are key for those involved in the internet’s social network.
  83. Meet with your local Polish American organizations or make special visits when traveling.
  84. Find the church or synagogue of your ancestors in Poland. Find out where others from that location may have resettled in the United States.
  85. Review a map of Poland and learn about the towns, cities, geography, and historical borders.
  86. Become connected and current with what happens in Poland.  Read a Polish newspaper such as Nowy Dziennik or check English language internet sites, such as Warsaw Voice, Warsaw Express or Krakow Post.
  87. Read a books or articles related to Poland and share that information with family and friends.
  88. Attend Polish American events and invite others to attend with you.
  89. Keep Polonia in the forefront.  Request and encourage  local elected officials to present proclamations or special greetings to the Polish American community in relation to commemorative events.
  90. Offer a Mass or service at your local place of worship for the intention of your area Polish American community or in connection to a historic event.  Following the service in the spirit of Polish hospitality, hold a reception with Polish pastries and refreshments.
  91. Set up an October Polish Heritage Month display or organize a cultural performance at your local library or town hall.
  92. Visit Jamestown and tell the people there that you are there to honor the Polish Glassmakers of 1608.
  93. Light a candle at the grave of a relative on November 2 (All Souls’ Day).
  94. Share opłatek at Christmas Eve Wigilia dinner or experience a Polish tradition of your religion.
  95. Sing and play kolędy (Polish carols) and give recordings as Christmas presents.
  96. Decorate your Christmas tree with Polish-made ornaments, or make your own village-style ornaments from paper, straw and blown-egg shells.
  97. Write “Wesołych Świąt” on all your Christmas or holiday cards.
  98. Visit Poland — the country of your ancestry; the homeland of your forefathers.
  99. Get your family and friends to discover their heritage through a subscription to the Polish American Journal – buy a subscription for a friends and family, for your local library; get your club or organization to buy 100 subscriptions for PAJ’s 100th anniversary.
  100. Dziękuję Bogu za rodzinę, przyjaciół i dziedzictwo. (Thank God for family, friends and heritage.)

Be proud to be a Polish American!

For tips on how to accomplish these items: recipes, music, lyrics, etc., check: www.pajtoday.blogspot.com or inquire at PAJtoday@yahoo.com.

— Edited and compiled by Staś Kmieć from contributors: Geraldine Balut-Coleman, Florence Clowes, James Conroyd Martin, Benjamin Fiore, Staś Kmieć, Mark Kohan, Lydia Kordalewski, Mary Ann Marko, Krysia Markowski, Ed Mohylowski and Leopold Potsiadlo.