European Union official and Bytów, Poland, native Marzena Breza (center) cracked a smile while translating for Bytów Mayor Ryszard Sylka (left) at an event in Winona in 2018.
A choir sang during last year’s Smaczne Jablka.
by CHRIS ROGERS
Winona leaders are revving up for a yearlong celebration of the island city’s Polish heritage in 2020 with food, music, dancing, squirt gun fights, and Polish puppies. Dubbed the Kashubian Capital Centennial 2020, the event series celebrates the 100th anniversary of the establishment of modern Poland and the Kashubian region from which most Polish-American families in Winona hail. There will be 35 different events throughout the year, from workshops on the art of Polish egg decorating (Pisanki) to a battle of the polka bands.
“It’s a matter of trying to preserve heritage throughout the generations,” Polish Cultural Institute and Museum board member and centennial co-coordinator Tim Breza said. Breza and his co-coordinator, Winona City Council member Michelle Alexander, said that in both Winona and Poland, Poles and Polish Americans are losing touch with their roots. “We’re now in the a third generation of Winona Poles, and they’re losing their heritage,” Breza stated. The times are changing in Poland, as well. “They, too, are losing this Kashubian culture,” Alexander said. “And when they come to Winona the see it as kind of a snapshot of what Kashubia was.”
The idea for some sort of multi-country celebration first came up this spring during a trip of Winona dignitaries to their sister city, Bytow, Poland. “It kind of exploded into this,” Alexander said of the yearlong celebration.
The first big event of the year will be the March of the Pomeranians on March 28. Kashubia is part of Poland’s Pomeranian region — home to the famously fluffy dogs. Pomeranians and all other breeds of pets are invited to participate in a parade and dog show at Sobieski Park.
It will be followed by Smigus Dyngus (“Wet Monday”) on April 13. Historically, Poland’s Easter Monday tradition involved boys dumping water on girls they like, but Winona’s version will feature water balloons, squirt guns, and a donate-to-drench station outside the Winona Public Library that people can choose to participate in or not. “We’re not actually encouraging young people to run around dousing each other in water, this is just outside the library,” Alexander clarified. If someone wants to donate to the Polish Museum, Alexander said, “We will throw Tim in front of the [squirt gun] firing squad and hit him with water balloons.” Hopefully, it won’t be snowing, Alexander and Breza joked.
On May 23, Winona will host a Jeny Kochany Festival at Levee Park with polka dancing lessons, a battle of the polka bands, and Polish food vendors. “Jeny Kochany” is a Kashubian expression along the lines of, “Oh, my gosh!” Asked when his family would say the phrase, Polish Museum founder Father Paul Breza explained, “When the grandchildren were babies and they would try walking and they would fall down.” Tim Breza recalled his parents: “If something was not going right, the way it was supposed to, and there was kind of a surprise, one would just say to the other, ‘Oh, Jeny Kochany!’” The actual Polish phrase for “Oh, my God!” or “Jesus Christ!” is slightly different, but Polish officials encouraged Winonans to keep “Jeny Kochany” as it is, saying it is a representation of the Kashubian culture of the 1800s, Alexander said. Father Breza added, “If you say that, you’re Kashubian. There’s no one else in the world that says that phrase.” The Twin Cities’ Dolina Dancers — an organization celebrating its 70th year of Polish folk dancing — will perform for the event and teach Winonans a few steps.
Throughout the year, there will be a slew of events in Winona, including lectures on Polish history and how to research Polish-American genealogy from Polish professors, a variety show at the Historic Masonic Temple Theatre, and a visit from leader of the Polish Senate, as well as local and regional officials from the Bytow area.
The centennial is not just for Winonans. In Bytow, Poles will also be celebrating and hosting Winona delegates. On October 1, during the year’s keystone event — a heritage dinner with Polish dignitaries — Winona will also host the descendants of Kashubian immigrants from other “daughter cities” in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and even Canada.
There are limited tickets for some of the arts and crafts workshops and culinary demonstrations during next year’s centennial. A workshop on Wycinanki, the art of Polish paper cutting, will be held on February 8. A lesson in Pisanki will be offered on March 21. Bytow Chef Marzen Wnuk-Lipinska will offer classes on Polish cooking on June 20 and 23. More information is available at www.kcc2020.org.