Since the Christmas season renews the spirit of HOPE and “Hope springs eternal” in the New Year, we are provided a clean slate, a blank canvas, another chance to fulfill our destiny. Technically, we have that opportunity to do so first thing each and every morning, but what is it about a New Year that most of us aspire to improve, change or define? In spite of a few “learning experiences” along the way, most of us are good people – great people, in fact. So, this year let’s forget about New Year’s resolutions and just be and do the best we can, making every day – a great day!

Now for a recap of events since the last Narod Polski went to print.

The introduction of the 2022 PRCUA Calendar was held in conjunction with the artist’s exhibit in the Great Hall of the Polish Museum of America. Patricia Stępniak, a graduate of fine arts, shares her artistic talents with the world and, for 2022, with the PRCUA. In addition to painting, her artistic talents extend to designing and sculpting, among others. Patricia shares her knowledge with the next generation of artists at her own studio as well as other venues including the PMA. A kind, loving and appreciative individual, she has been embraced by the PRCUA family. The evening’s festivities were partially sponsored by the PRCUA and attended by many of Polonia’s elite including the Consul of Polonian Affairs in Chicago, Ms. Agata Grochowska.

After almost two years, the PRCUA Board of Directors resumed its in person quarterly meeting on December 3-4, 2021, at the site of the 63rd  Quadrennial Convention – the Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills Resort, Oak Brook, Illinois. Remember to mark your calendars for August 11-14, 2022. It was nice to see our Board members in person although several joined us remotely. We thank Larry White of AQS for hosting the Board Christmas Party.

The PRCUA Opłatek hosted by District 8 (James Rustik, President) was held on December 4, 2021, at the Polish Highlanders Banquet Hall on Chicago’s southwest side. It was attended by PRCUA Officers and members of the Board of Directors, the representatives of Districts 7, 8 and 9 including Polonia Ensemble (D-7) and Adult Culture Group (D-8); as well as family and friends of the evening’s performers – Mały Ludek and Wesoły Ludek groups (part of the PRCUA Southwest Center of Polish Song & Dance) and the Wesoly Lud Polish Folk Dance Company. Chairing the event were Krystyna Lech (D-8 Vice President) and Danielle Kroplewski (D-8 Secretary, Maria Konopnicka Polish School Board President, dance instructor at SWCPSD and Emcee for the festivities). One of our guests, President of the Polish Highlanders Alliance of North America, Stanisław W. Sarna, included in his welcoming remarks, wishes recited in the form of a lovely popular Góralski poem. He presented a gift to President Robaczewski which was a token of his sincere appreciation and was well received. In his remarks, he noted that we were celebrating this holiest of holydays at the beginning of the Advent season. His words made me pause for a moment and realize that even our rich Polish traditions are ever changing. We choose what symbols of our traditions have a place in the lives of our families and communities and incorporate them. The moral of this story, American tradition dictates an early start to the Christmas season with the Polish side continuing the celebration until Candlemas (February 2). In other words, the best of both worlds. Bravo to the Artistic Director and Choreographer of both SWCPSD and Wesoly Lud, Richard Jaminski and his staff, for the artistic program presented at this year’s Opłatek as well as to the stars of the performance. Special thanks to St. Nicholas (Walter Dynowski) for gracing us with his presence and to all who attended. Happy Birthday, Danielle (Kroplewski) who celebrated her birthday at the Opłatek – Sto lat! See complete article and photos on p. 8-9 of the January issue of the Naród Polski. (Babcia moment  – Ariana made here Polish dancing debut at this event. So proud and excited!)

Also on December 4, our friends at the Polish American Chamber of Commerce (Iwona Filipiak, President; Agnieszka Bastrzyk, Vice President Internal Affairs) hosted its Christmas Party and Annual Awards Presentation.

Sec-Treas. Agnieszka Bastrzyk represented the PRCUA at the annual Oplatek hosted by the Polish Teachers of America on December 8. She distributed our lovely calendars. We would like to thank the Polish Teachers of America for recognizing our Secretary-Treasurer – a graduate of the Polish Saturday School at Holy Trinity Parish in Chicago (Malgorzata Kot was one of her teachers). Here is a photo of our Sec-Treas. With Consul Agata Grochowska from the Polish Consulate in Chicago.

Representing the PRCUA at the Alliance of Polish Clubs’ Opłatek (12/11) was National Director District 7, Ewa Cholewinski. President and Mrs. Robaczewski attended “Magical Holidays” at the Copernicus Center in Chicago (12/12) in which our very own PRCUA Polonia Ensemble (Anna Krysinski, Manager; Jaclyn Krysinski, Artistic Director and Choreographer; Mieczysław Dziś, Musical Director) participated. Elzbieta Sawczuk, Anne Moschopoulus, and Julie Prado manned the PRCUA booth. Congratulations on the lovely performance and to all who made the weekend events so festive! Photo #4

The Polish American Congress Illinois Division together with the Polish American Foundation hosted its annual Oplatek on Monday December 13th at Our Lady Mother of the Church Parish Hall. Attending the event on behalf of the PRCUA was President and Mrs. James Robaczewski.

On the 40th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in Poland (12/13/81), the Polish Consulate in Chicago encouraged everyone to light the Light of Freedom on Monday, December 13, 2021, exactly at 7:30 p.m. by placing candles in their windows. 40 years ago, Pope John Paul II lit a candle in a Vatican window in solidarity with his homeland. Then U.S. President Ronald Reagan did the same in the window of the White House and asked Americans to do so as well. In Chicago, Mayor Jane M. Byrne asked the residents of her city to follow suit to “let the windows of this city be aglow with the warm light of hope” for Poland. In all, millions of Americans placed candles in their windows.

The PRCUA Employees were treated to their annual Christmas Party, “Jingle and Mingle,” at the Punch Bowl Social Chicago on December 14. In addition to food and beverages, there was bowling, karaoke, billiards and wall scrabble. The event was chaired by Executive Assistant, Anna Grabowski, together with Member Services Manager, Julie Prado. See article and photos on p. 15.

On Friday and Saturday, December 17 and 18, St. John Paul II Polish School together with the Polanie Dancers (Lemont, Illinois) and the Maria Konopnicka Polish School (Oak Lawn, Illinois) held their Christmas programs.

The following weekend was another busy but fun weekend. On December 18, President Robaczewski accompanied by past District 7 Director Kevin Kucik attended the Michigan Women’s Division “Oplatek” hosted this year by the PRCUA Zajaczek Dancers and chaired by Colleen Bonkowski (also National Director of District 10 and School Director of Zajaczek). Mandatory dress code was either an “ugly” Christmas sweater (personally, I don’t find them “ugly” – some are festive, others are just excessively adorned) or Christmas pajamas. President Robaczewski opted for the former – his first, by the way – and looked quite stylish.

The following day (12/19), the duo from Chicago attended the first Polish American Day with the Detroit Lions at Ford Field where the Halka Dancers (Laura Hejza, School Director; Thomas Lisiecki, Artistic Director and Choreographer) and Gwiazda Dancers (Jessica Urban Wendt, School Director; Barbara Nowakowski, Choreographer) teamed up to provide Polish dance entertainment. Instrumental in organizing this event – none other than President Emeritus Wallace M. Ozog and his son, Christopher.

Meanwhile, back in Chicago, the Southwest Center of Polish Song and Dance (Anna Kraszewski-Winkler, Manager and Dance Instructor; Richard Jaminski, Artistic Director/Choreographer/Sound Engineer; and teaching staff) successfully presented its Christmas program at Mother McAuley High School, with a guest appearance by the Wesoły Lud Polish Folk Dance Company. Together with Sec-Treas. Agnieszka Bastrzyk, we represented the PRCUA at this event. President Robaczewski extended his season’s greetings via video message. Bravo to all who made this program happen in the midst of this continuing pandemic and for the cooperation of all dancers and audience who adhered to the mask mandate. (It was another “Babcia” moment for me – as Mila made her Polish folk dance debut and Ariana performing as well!)

Finally, the much-anticipated main event of the Christmas season, the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and with it, the traditions of Polish families (and others as well) hold near and dear. This year, I pondered how our Polish Wigilia traditions began and especially, with the number of courses served. I polled my family and friends as to the latter on Facebook (thank you to those who responded) and then the staff at PRCUA and PMA. Expanding my poll to include what part of Poland their ancestry stemmed from. Other than a few, including Jim Robaczewski, Christopher Ozog, Jan Lorys, Piotr Kulka (from Poznan, Poland) and myself, the majority seemed to adhere to 12 courses – either to honor the twelve apostles or in some cases, for the twelve months of the year. Those of us who remember an odd number of courses being served are not alone. The book, Treasured Polish Recipes for Americans by Polanie Club (Polanie Publishing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota), was first printed in 1948, then reprinted several times, suggested menus for 7, 9 and 11 courses. I continued my quest for an answer and finally found an explanation that made sense. Quoting from an article dated December 22, 2021 from NFP: Notes from Poland entitled, “The changing face of Poland’s Christmas dishes” (author, Natalia Parzygnat): “The 12 dishes traditionally served on Christmas Eve symbolise the months of the year or 12 apostles. Trying and tasting all of them – from the savoury wild mushrooms, beetroot soups and sour cabbage stews to the sweet honey-laced poppyseed desserts and gingerbread – is said to bring luck. But this number only became fixed after the Second World War… Before the 19th century, in fact, most households chose odd numbers, usually five, seven or nine. And the number often depended on families’ economic situation – aristocrats would often serve 11 dishes. As they do today, Polish Christmas suppers would feature meatless dishes, owing to the continued Catholic fast…” I found this article most informative and it referenced a chart that mapped the common foods by Polish regions. Because of space, the map may not be included in the printed copy of this issue, but will be included in the online version for the sake of information.

Life comes with its ups and downs and it is most unfortunate to mourn the loss of those near and dear at any time of the year, but especially around Christmas. Quite unexpectedly, I lost a dear friend, an unselfish soul, a giving heart and an inspiration to all she came in contact with. Evelyn Cedzidlo showed us how to age gracefully and live life to the fullest. She was Wesoly Lud’s Fan and showcased us at her Fashion Shows, Polka Masses and even her 75th birthday bash. At age 85, this beautiful lady passed away on the 13th of December and on the 13th Anniversary of my father’s passing. My sincere condolences to her family and her “golden circle of friends.” As much as my heart is heavy with sorrow, I am so very happy I had her in my life.

Our deepest sympathies to the family of Paul Konopacki who passed away at age 55 from pancreatic cancer, four days before Christmas. Paul is survived by his wife, children, parents (Chester and Stella Konopacki), his siblings as well as many other family members and friends. Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, Amen.

The preparation for Christmas can be daunting at times, but it is much appreciated and so worth it. I hope that each and every one of you had a wonderful celebration with family and friends. Ours was a treat as our family is expanding and we celebrated Donny Coltri’s first Christmas and a full house. Please accept our family’s wishes for a healthy and happy 2022!