Polish Contributions To American Culture

Bronze Equestrian Statue of General Casimir Pulaski
September 13, 2022
Polish immigrants have made several notable contributions to American culture. From influences in Hollywood and fashion to holidays and visual arts, Polish American Culture still thrives today in the United States.


Polish Holidays

Polish Americans celebrate Pulaski Day, which President Harry Truman decreed as an official Remembrance Day in 1946. This holiday commemorates the birthday of Casimir Pulaski, a Polish-born soldier that contributed to the United States’ independence in the Revolutionary War.


Polish Americans also celebrate main liturgical holidays such as Easter and Christmas. Christmas Eve dinner, also called Wigilia, is the most widely cherished of Polish celebrations and traditionally begins when the night’s first star appears.


The dinner is served on a table adorned with a white tablecloth with straw in memory of the Godchild in the manger, and the dinner opens with the sharing of Oplatek, or the Christmas wafer. Each person takes a piece of the other’s wafer and they exchange wishes for good health and success in the upcoming year. The number of courses at the Wigilia dinner table is 12, representing the 12 apostles and 12 months of the year, though in the past dinner consisted of an odd number of dishes.


The meal is meatless. Most menus include mushroom soup, carp and herring, pierogi, boiled potatoes, braised sauerkraut, fruit compote, and Piernik – Polish gingerbread. An empty space is often left at the table for an unexpected visitor in need of food and shelter. Singing carols, or Kolędy, is done after dinner concludes.


In Poland, caroling with the manger is held between Christmas Eve and the Epiphany on January 6, also called Three Kings. Carolers travel around town with a manger, visit neighbors, and are typically given money or treats.


Another holiday celebrated in Poland is Candlemas Day on February 2. This is when people bring their candles to the church to be blessed. Blessed candles are believed to protect the home from bad fortune or sickness.


The Polish celebrate the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday by feasting. To use up the sugar and fat in the home before Lent, Polish people traditionally made fried Paczki – custard or fruit-filled doughnuts.


In Polish communities in the United States, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday has become known as Paczki Day, where Polish Americans (and non-Polish!) all wait in line for paczki at Polish bakeries.


Easter is another important holiday in Polish communities. The Polish view this holiday as a time of rebirth and regeneration in a religious sense and for their fields.


Easter marks the beginning of the farmer’s year and is celebrated with feasts filled with meats, traditional cakes, butter molded to look like a lamb, and beautifully decorated eggs called Pisanki.


Easter baskets are taken to Mass on the Saturday before Easter where they are blessed by the priest. This blessing of the baskets is known as Święconka.


Polish Impact on Visual Arts

A well-known artist of Polish descent, Korczak Ziolkowski, was the assistant to Gutzon Borglum during the historical Mount Rushmore project in South Dakota.
He continued his monumental style by creating a 500-foot by 640-foot statue of Cheif Crazy horse which is still being made from solid rock by his family in the Black hills.


Polish People in Hollywood

Hollywood is filled with many Polish-born men and women who have helped shape the industry and make a significant impact, such as Harry and Jack Warner of Warner Bros. Warner Bros. is a film and entertainment company with over 100 years of history in Hollywood.


Pola Negri was a famous Polish-born stage and film actress and singer. She was famous worldwide due to her work during the silent and golden eras of Hollywood and European film.


Liberace, born Władzie Valentino Liberace, was half-polish and half-Italian. He was a talented pianist, singer, and actor with a career spanning four decades filled with recording, concerts, television, endorsements, and motion pictures.


Another notable Hollywood figure is Hubert Taczanowski, a Polish-born Hollywood and International cinematographer. He is known for movies such as Military Wives, How to Build a Girl, and River.


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