Candlemas: Our Lady of the Thunderbolt

By Robert Strybel, Warsaw Correspondent

Candlemas, occurring 40 days after Christmas, is officially known by the Church as the Feast of Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It commemorates the Jewish ritual according to which the Blessed Mother was purified after giving birth and presented her Baby to the Temple. But for ages, it has been associated throughout Europe with candles and the Blessed Virgin, likened to the candle that gave birth to the Light of the World. On that day churches were ablaze with candlelight, and the candles to be used in the liturgy throughout the year were blessed.

Just as the Catholic Feast of the Assumption (August 15) is known in Poland by the folkloric term “Święto Matki Boskiej Zielnej” (Our Lady of the Greenery), so too Candlemas is called “Święto Matki Boskiej Gromnicznej.” That can be translated as Our Lady of the Thunderbolt Candle. The Polish word “grom” is a clap of thunder, hence the “gromnica” is the thunderclap candle and “gromniczna” is its adjectival form.

For ages, Poles have flocked to church on February 2, bringing with them the tall beeswax candles which would be used for ritual purposes in the home throughout the year. During Holy Mass, the candles were blessed and the faithful did their best to carry their lighted candles home with them – not always an easy task in blustery weather. Once home, the head of the household would use the burning candle to trace a soot-stained cross on the ceiling beam of the cottage. He would also take the lighted candle to every nook and cranny of the cottage and visit his outbuildings as well in the belief that its radiance would ward of the forces of darkness. After the flame was blown out, it was believed that inhaling the candle smoke would prevent coals and sore throats.

As its name implies, the “gromnica” was believed to protect against thunderstorms and was placed in the window to keep lightning bolts away. This writer recalls how terrified his late maternal grandmother, Katarzyna Kupczyńska, had been of violent thunderstorms. As a child, I would often visit my Babcia in the tiny beer, wine and sweet shop she ran in Detroit’s then predominantly Polish suburb of Hamtramck. Once, when it started thundering, she closed the shop and hurriedly took me by the hand to her home two doors away. There she lit a “gromnica,” hoping the storm would soon pass over. I was only seven or eight at the time and no longer recall whether Babcia simply made the Sign of the Cross or said a prayer, but Polish prayer books often contain a “Modlitwa w czasie burzy” (Prayer during Storms).

The lighted “gromnica” also had another important function: it was placed in the hands of people on their deathbed and of those who had just died. When not in use, the candle was kept behind a holy picture over the bed as a kind of memento mori, a reminder that no one can escape death. The thunderbolt candle was also believed to protect against wolves. Different Polish painters have depicted the Blessed Mother holding a pack of wolves at bay with a “gromnica.”

Although the Feast of the Three Kings (January 6) is the last of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and some take down their home Christmas cribs, trees and other Yuletide decorations soon thereafter, to this day Candlemas is the final cut-off point. On that day the season’s last Christmas carols are sung in church. But in the olden days, roving caroler-masqueraders continued to pay visits, although their attire and antics by then had become less Nativity and more Mardi Gras oriented.

PFA hosts upcoming events

Sixth Annual Celebration Honoring Our Lady of Czestochowa

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Polish Falcons of America and the Polish Clergy of the Diocese of Pittsburgh will hold the Sixth Annual Celebration Honoring Our Lady of Czestochowa on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014 at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Mass, held in remembrance of the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, will commence at 7 p.m. Beginning at 6:30 p.m., Radoslaw Fizek will perform an array of Polish patriotic selections.

The Most Reverend David A. Zubik will serve as Celebrant. Confessions in both Polish and English will be heard from 6 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Donor support is greatly appreciated.

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Annual Pilgrimage to Doylestown

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It’s that time again for the Polish Falcons of America to host the annual pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czêstochowa in Doylestown, Pa. The chartered bus departs from the South Side of Pittsburgh at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014 at 18th & Sydney Streets, 15203. This year, the pilgrimage includes a stop in Lancaster, Pa. for shopping and an authentic Amish-style dinner that evening.

The bus will depart on Sunday morning for the Polish Mass at noon in Doylestown, Pa. After the Mass, there will be a Polish picnic as well as a Polish cultural activity with PFA Cultural Commissioner Larry Kozlowski.

The price per person for hotel accommodations, roundtrip bus, and two meals is $120 based on double occupancy. Single occupancy accommodations are available at a rate of $215 per person. All checks should be made payable to the Polish Falcons of America and mailed with registration form listing all names of registrants and rooming preference by Sept. 5, 2014 to April Miller, Polish Falcons of America, 381 Mansfield Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15220.

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Save the Date: Traditional Wigilia Dinner

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Polish Falcons of America will sponsor a Traditional Wigilia Dinner on Saturday, Dec. 6, 2014 at the Sokol Club in Pittsburgh, Pa. PFA Cultural Commissioner, Lawrence Kozlowski, will host the event, leading guests in the sharing of Oplatki prior to dinner.

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For additional information regarding any of these events, please call 800-535-2071 or email amiller@polishfalcons.org.

Christmas in Traditional Polish Style e-book

From the author of “Polish Heritage Cookery,” “Polish Holiday Cookery” and “Polish/Polonian Heritage & Lifestyles” comes a book Polonia has long been waiting for: “Christmas in Traditional Polish Style.” Everything you ever wanted to know about Polish-style Yuletide can be found in the pages of this new e-book. It explains how individual customs originated, what they signify, and how they were once, and are currently celebrated in Poland and across our Polish-American community.

The Polish traditions surrounding Advent, visits from St. Nicholas, the podłaźniczka (decorated evergreen bough) and Christmas cribs are all presented in an easy-to-read format. Included are instructions on how to create handmade tree ornaments and practice such customs as the tree of good deeds and the hay of good deeds. Wigilia (Christmas Eve), the highpoint of Polish Yuletide, is particularly elaborated and all its symbols, practices and lore are all clearly explained.

These include the distinctive way the table is set on this one night a year with tufts of hay protruding from under the table-cloth, the evening’s first star, the sharing of opłatek and the special spread of Wigilia delicacies gracing the table. Family caroling and fortune-telling, Midnight Mass and the roving bands of house-to-house carolers who start their rounds on December 26, all come alive in “Christmas in Traditional Polish Style.”

Customs are not only explained but step-by-step instructions are provided on how to re-enact them in a Polish-American setting. You will find the texts to two Polish nativity plays – one bilingual and the other in English – as well as numerous hints on how to hold an opłatek-dinner, pay caroling visits to nursing homes and organize Polish-style New Year’s Eve or Three Kings Day festivities. Also included are caroling songs, prayers and Christmas poems with English translations provided for all the Polish-language texts.

The Kindle version of “Christmas in Traditional Polish Style” costs $3.99 and starting in September 2013 is available exclusively through Amazon.com. Just type in the author’s name (Robert Strybel) to land on the right page.

Those who prefer to read the book on their computer screen can order the PDF version by airmailing a $3.99 (personal or bank) check or money order to:

Robert Strybel
ul. Kaniowska 24
01-529 Warsaw, Poland

Be sure to include your email address so the book can be dispatched to you without delay.

VP Trish: Celebrating the Holidays

Well, here we are at the beginning of another year! Whew, life flies by! When you are young, you hear that life is short, enjoy. You think, yeah right. Then you get a bit older and guess what, it does indeed fly!

Hopefully, all had a wonderful holiday season. Mine was extremely nice this year. I actually celebrated Christmas twice. The beginning of December, I went out to Indianapolis to visit my son, Gregory and his family. We spent the entire day Saturday at the gym (one of my favorite places) watching Dakota participate in high school wrestling matches. He did great! We went home, had Christmas dinner, and then opened gifts. All were quite pleased. My gift to Jasmine, Dakota and Mikayla was a night and afternoon with their grandmother (me). We stayed at a lovely hotel with a fitness center, pool and hot tub. The next morning, we went out to breakfast and then to see Tran Siberian Orchestra. It was fabulous, Jasmine had been in three show choirs in high school, Dakota loves their music and Mikayla is in the orchestra. After I left there, I went down to Louisville to spend time with my brother, Bud and his family. His son has 2 year old twin granddaughters and they are awaiting the arrival of Shelby.

My family had our traditional family dinner at Buca a few nights before Christmas. Christmas Eve and Christmas day were of course, wonderful with the babies. Prior to Christmas, we had gone to Kennywood (local amusement park) to see lights, visited Santa in our neighborhood, and Santa visited our house on a fire truck. The look of innocence and joy on their little faces while looking at the tree and my mantle is priceless! Ryan is simply in awe of the mantle. I have bubble lights, candles, pine, holly and Santas on display. He also enjoys my dancing Santas, they have danced more this year than all the combined years I have owned them!

Speaking of family, a short time ago, two of Gustav Pieprzny’s grandsons, came into our office to visit the museum. We talked about their grandfather, looked at some pictures and talked about the days when their grandfather was the Chief Instructor of the PFA being appointed in 1925. Druh held this position (with one three year break) until his death in 1970. Paul needed additional life insurance so I sold him a policy. The gist of this story is that even though Paul is not very active within the Polish Falcons (he is a Member of Nest 8 and visits the club about once every year or so), when he needed life insurance, he came to the Polish Falcons. As many of you know, we have a new portfolio of products. One of my favorites is the new juvenile term product. One payment and you’re done. Please consider the Polish Falcons when purchasing life insurance. Many of you say, I have life insurance at work, I don’t need anymore. My suggestion is to check and see what happens if you are no longer employed there. Does your policy go with you or will you be retired (so obviously older) and in need of life insurance? It is obviously more cost effective to purchase when younger. If you have questions regarding life insurance, please contact the Polish Falcons of America.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy, Healthy New Year!

Czolem!