Polish Art Center & Heritage Farm

By Robert Strybel, Polish/Polonian Affairs Writer

Kathleen Bittner and her two siblings grew up in Detroit’s once predominantly Polish enclave-suburb of Hamtramck, surrounded by Polish artifacts at their parents’ business – Polish Art Center. Kathleen not only knows all about imported Polish merchandise, but has become skilled in such traditional folkcrafts as pisanki (Easter eggs), wycinanki (paper cut-outs) and straw Christmas-tree ornaments.

Recently, she opened a branch of Polish Art Center in the northwestern Michigan community of Cedar in the Traverse City area. Like the original Hamtramck location, it offers a wide variety of Polish cultural goods and gift items – folkcrafts, greeting cards, books, maps, CDs and other ethnic artifacts.

A few years earlier, Kathleen said “I do” with PolAm boy Tom Koch who, while growing up, had been very close to his Polish-born grandfather, Kazimierz Szklarski. Tom inherited his green thumb and interest in farming from Dziadek Kazik, who had been raised on a farm in Poland. Later, he had an extensive garden and raised pigeons at his home in Hamtramck.

“After the arrival of our son Tomek, we couldn’t think of a better place for him to grow up than on a family farm,” Kathleen explained. “Since we were both city kids, my husband was initially a bit hesitant to make such a huge move. While discussing it, I reminded him that both our families had been farmers in Poland and his family is still running a hog farm near the northern city of Bydgoszcz. Maybe for us that would not be doing something new but returning to what we were really meant to do all along.”

A woman’s power of persuasion knows no bounds, and the result was Polish Heritage Farm on Lake Leelanau in Cedar, Mich. “It has been quite an exciting year-and-a-half since moving here but we couldn’t be happier,” Kathleen told this reporter. “We have never worked harder but also never experienced something so rewarding!” They raise produce from seeds imported from Poland, have over 150 chickens, heritage-breed hogs, goats and rabbits, as well as a huge vegetable garden.

The PolAm couple, both in their early 30s, is now in their second growing season, so they are still establishing what grows best and what types of crops (red currents, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, fruit trees, etc.) would be worth cultivating in future years. The heritage farm offers pickling cucumbers, radishes, oregano, thyme, basil, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, beets and tomatoes – all from Polish seeds – as well as farm-fresh eggs.

The family farm also provides freshly butchered USDA certified meat ranging from a side of pork or a whole hog in six large pieces ($4 a pound) to basic cuts in one to three pound sealed packages or according to customer preference ($4.75 a pound). Complete processing including fresh cuts and Old World specialties such as bacon, ham and fresh and smoked kiełbasa are also available. Dressed goats and rabbits are sold whole.

Queries regarding both the Polish Art Center and Heritage Farm should be emailed to: kmbfri1382@gmail.com or phone: 231-228-2461. I might add that while preparing this article, Kathleen and Tom experienced their second blessed event: a little girl named Leokadia Ray. Is this the start of a new PolAm business dynasty? Let’s hope so!

Polishfest 2016

A “family-oriented festival” of Polish live music, song, folk dance performances, ethnic foods, crafts and culture will be presented on Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016 from noon to 5 p.m. at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning (Commons Room, 1st Floor). This cultural event is FREE and open to the public. A variety of cooking demonstrations and food sampling, make-n-take kids crafts, folk art demonstrations, and a holiday craft and gift mart will be centered around “A Celebration Of Christmas in The Old Country.” This year’s festival will also celebrate the rich culture, music and folklore of Pittsburgh’s Lithuanian Community. Take a trip to the “Old Country” without leaving Pittsburgh. It’s FREE!

Featured entertainment will include: Bociai Lithuanian Chorus, Frania’s Polka Celebration, Lajkoniki Polish Folk Ensemble, Living Traditions Folk Ensemble, Radoslaw Fizek (Polish Folk Songs and Christmas Carols) and the Echos of Lithuania.

For more information, contact L.G. Kozlowski, Festival Director, at lgk505@aol.com or 814-969-5940.

Polishfest ’16 is partially sponsored by the Polish Falcons of America and the Polish Falcons Heritage Foundation.

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.

Nest 580 celebrates 100th anniversary

Nest 580 Pittsfield, Mass. just celebrated their 100th Anniversary. The Nest had a full weekend of festivities, September 12-14, including a pot luck dinner, shuffleboard games, and karaoke on Friday night with a great turnout.

On Saturday, Members attended a picnic with kids games from 12-3 p.m. and later in the evening had an awesome banquet with many honors going out to Members and volunteers.

On Sunday morning, the Nest hosted an excellent brunch to round out the weekend.

Many thanks to all who helped in the planning of this event. The hall looked absolutely beautiful for the banquet. Special thanks goes out to Mayor Bianchi, Sheriff Bowler, and the Nest’s Connecticut friends for making the celebration a success. A big congratulations goes to Catherine Mlynarczyk for her lifetime achievement and recognition.