In November, the Polish Heritage Society (PHS) enjoyed a fascinating presentation about the Christmas tradition of “szopka,” hand-made nativity scenes within a colorful castle. The presenter, Marek Czarnecki, annually guides the children in Hartford-area Catholic schools who build these structures using everyday household items such as paper towel rolls, boxes, foil, plastic bottles, and wrapping paper. The szopka reinforces the concept that Christ is born every day, not just on December 25. Adults and children enter these creations into an annual competition held at the Polish National Home in Hartford. This year the event will be on Sunday, December 1, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 60 Charter Oak Ave. Proceeds from the event benefit a scholarship fund named for the late Jennie (Markowski) Marconi-Javorski, who was born in Suffield to immigrants Stanley and Helen (Oles) Markowski. The Polish Center of Discovery and Learning in Chicopee, displays several “szopki” all year around.
At the December 4 meeting of the PHS, Susan Urban will talk about some Polish Christmas and New Year traditions. In Poland, this holy season starts with Advent (December 1, 2019) and ends 40 days after Christmas Day. The elaborate celebration of the season takes place on Christmas Eve. It features a very symbolic, meatless dinner set on a table according to tradition. A centuries-old custom is practiced before eating the meal. The father breaks and shares the Christmas wafer with his wife and family. The “oplatek” represents forgiveness and reconciliation, friendship and love. The holy season continues with Epiphany on Jan. 6 and includes a special blessing of peoples’ homes. It officially ends on February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ. This day is also known as Candlemas or the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Polish Heritage Society meets at 10 a.m. on the first Wednesday of each month from September to June at the Suffield Ambulance Center. The group learns about, preserves and perpetuates the customs brought here by their Polish ancestors. All are welcome to attend.