Casmir Pulaski Day

“So I come from a town, it’s not even really a town, you can really refer to it as a village if you want. [Collector: Laughter. Okay.] No I’m serious, I’m pretty sure that’s like what our like legal like status is but we say like town. Um but it’s the village of DuBois umm and we’re pretty much like the (pause) I mean I can’t say that everyone there is Polish but like the majority of them are Polish Catholics. [Collector: Okay. And you’re Polish?] I’m Polish and I’m Catholic. So yeah. Umm well actually like my family’s very big into like Catholicism and like the and that like our Church and our town like thing so um and like we’re the ones who like pretty much the town is run by our church. That’s not to say that we um but anyways you know what I mean like it’s such a small town so our Church runs it. But like but we’re the ones that put on the Polish Fest. So umm it’s kinda like a town thing it’s so big. [Collector: And does the festival have a name?] Umm Casmir Pulaski Day that like it’s it’s and it actually umm it’s a holiday in Illinois, the state of Illinois, like it’s not across like the country it’s like kids get off school in Illinois. Like you get off like on Pulaski Day. So um it’s short term: Pulaski Day. Like not Casmir Pulaski Day but Pulaski Day. Umm and the colors you wear red and white so you wear red and white obviously um and that’s also the flag of Poland is red and white. So that’s why. Umm but it’s basically like this guy, Casmir Pulaski, was like in Poland and, don’t quote me on all of this, but I’m trying, umm it’s like in Poland and then he like was a General and then he like was a General and like um he was like uuh (pause) like good at it over there but then I can’t remember for some reason he had to leave. And then he, it was during the time of the Civil War here in America, and then he ended up getting umm like he heard about what we were doing, here, like not we but you know what I mean. Anyways, what America was doing and he like (pause) I was about to say emailed. (Laughter) [Collector: Laughter.] He sent a message to (Laughter) [Collector: Laughter] he sent a message to um uhhh whoever was in charge, I guess it was Lee or umm [Collector: Are you talking about the Union or the Confederacy?] I think it was [If he’s Illinois it was the Union so.] So then it wouldn’t’ve been Lee it would’ve been Grant. Whoever. Whoever was in charge there you might want to look that one up, sorry. Umm but he did that and then umm ended up coming over and working for them and he actually was like the first so he fought during the war and he was the first one to have a cavalry of, see I want to say he worked for the South (pause) because he was the first one to make like a unit of like mm—like instead of it being like militia men that was just like them working together he made the first like he like was like give me the like the go ahead to like make my own little army and he did and they were the ones that like you can look it up but there’s a lot of stuff on what they did like they did a lot of like. (pause) They did a lot for the war. I can’t remember, there’s specific battles and stuff but like we don’t really pay attention too much to that stuff cuz that’s like the history of it. But we get to celebrate the day. And that’s like a Polish figure in like you know modern American so that’s why we like it. But umm.

But yeah it’s a holiday in Illinois. And you get off school and works you know like the government’s stuffs closed, like the post office, it’s like any Federal Holiday. Umm yeah and then we just on Sunday we have a parade. And then we have like umm our Church puts on like a meal that’s traditional like Polish food. [Collector: Oh cool. What are some of the things in that meal?] Like parogies, umm like Polish sausage, and just like a bunch of that and then the desserts are like crazy just like so many like pies it’s not even funny. The food’s kind of gotten a little more Americanized like over the years but yeah. I think we’re like I think we’re in the (pause) 18th annual (pause) or 19th annual, cuz it’s not every, I mean this came in like the eighties or when it was um it’s a more recent holiday. It hasn’t been like for-ever. Ummm. [Collector: Do you know why it started in the eighties?] (Pause.) No. [Collector: That’s okay! Just curious.] Umm and then (pause) Yeah that’s a good question I don’t know that. Umm and then so then [Collector: Can we talk about the parade a little bit?] Okay but I was going to say but the other the first thing that you do is like the main thing the main festivities are the Mass and then the Food and then the Parade. Those are like the three main things. The Mass is done in umm it’s—it’s they’ve done it before where the entire Mass was in Polish but it’s really hard to get a priest who can speak Polish soo umm we’ve got so we don’t do that as often but there’s we have um garments that umm that are um native Polish um like um like wear like. I’ve been the Polish Boy three times where you cuz there’s a man costume and er um er a male costume and a female costume and then two people walk up and they’re basically just like to represent like the Polish heritage or something but they’re really cool they’re really like very detailed, embroidered like they’d be worth money but like. [Collector: What do they look like?] They’re red and like I don’t know if I could I don’t have any pictures on me I don’t think and my mom doesn’t have any digital ones but I can probably help you like look one up online and show you if you want. [Collector: But could you just describe it?] It’s like it’s uh I’m trying to think. There’s a hat and it’s kinda looks like you like the Shriners? It’s like their hats it kinda looks like that and it’s got like a tassel on it thing too and then it’s like a bigger like white shirt kind of like bigger like the sleeves are bigger and it has a vest umm and then the pants are like (pause) they’re kind of bigger they’re kinda like not MC Hammer pants but like (pause) kind of. And then umm I don’t think they’re shoes at least we don’t have them and then it’s just like and then there’s a vest and just like very detailed like and it all matches like it’s like yeah and the girl’s is like it’s like a corset. Like it’s g—like a pale green and it’s like corset up the front and then like tie and then like a white thing here (points at chest) and then like the skirt thing very like stereotypical (Laughs) but like it’s got like the stuff in it where it’s like [Collector: Like the tool?] Yeah. So it’s like that very stereotypical like that one. Umm. [Collector: And so is there any sort of like stigma around being getting to wear the costumes?] Umm [Collector: Or do you like have a specific role in the Mass?] In—as the child, they don’t want to, because, I never wanted to because I just like I don’t know I liked going to the Mass but I didn’t like wearing the big costume because normally it was too big for me anyways and I just looked so stupid and I didn’t look yeah anyways. But the parents, on the other hand, having their children do it, their in—now that is more of a like umm “honor” like thing. So to the parents, yes. But not to the children. The children don’t really care. Because when you’re—when you’re young you have to be like in between like it was probably like 8 to like or maybe like 7 to 11 maybe that range and at that time kids don’t really like give a shit. So. Umm but yeah. And then, then you do the Mass. And then all of the songs are definitely in Polish. (Pause).

Umm and then you go to the Food usually, and then it’s that. And then the Parade. And the Parade is usually, it’s not so much like (pause) Polish like stuff by the Parade is more like the modern thing like it’s like the candy, they have candy, and then there’s the tractors. There’s usually a before the parade there’s like a tractor show and then cuz um and then uh then all the tractors go through the um Parade um and there is a lot of alcohol, obviously, I mean it’s a parade. Umm. And then there’s also like other food vendors like outside there that are kinda like selling more like (pause) umm like funnel cakes and like that kind of stuff but that one’s more commercialized but like umm (pause) Let me think.

[Collector: Um and do you guys, for the meal, where is it and who goes to it?] It’s in our Church. Umm like the school our old school it’s in like the cafeteria like in the big like so it’s and it’s completely packed. All the time. Like (pause) there’s always a line out the door like I mean and it’s usually family like all like families like whole families will come, all of the old people always go. Umm. Younger people we usually like (pause) For me, my family like me and all my friends we were I was in the crowd that like ran it. So I could just like walk in and grab food and go like I didn’t have to like wait in line so I’m not used to that I don’t really know. Umm but I would always just like go in grab some food and then head out and like go to my friend’s house and chill and then like go to the Parade and like it’s just kinda like an all-day thing. Cuz then what ends up happening is umm (pause). Like after the Parade is over, the families go home and then the then the local bars (Laughter) really pick up. And that’s when the more adults like party. But yeah. [Collector: And so in the Meal do people generally eat with their family or with their friends or is there any sort of rhyme or reason to that?] Most of the time, it’s with your family if you’re out of town like if you’re coming from outside of our like small town that runs it but if you’re running the festival then you eat with your friends. Because your parents are all working like the back. But for people who come in, yeah, it’s like definitely a big family thing but not many people eat that food on a regular basis and they just like do it and it’s family style. So like there’s waiters and waitresses like my mom runs the kitchen whereas my dad is a runner. Like runner you know they take the plates to the like the, you know what family style means, right? [Collector: Could you explain it?] It’s where like cuz you have like cafeteria style where they come through a line and you like put it on a plate but this is family style, where it’s like like there’s a bowl of corn on each table, a bowl of mashed potatoes on each table, because it’s like you’re sitting as like a family passing cuz you know what I mean? As opposed to like getting up and getting it yourself or getting only one plate. So. Yeah. So it’s like all you can eat.

[Collector: Okay. Um and so that’s all Sunday, is there anything then on Monday? Or is that…?] Umm. Normally that’s just like recouperation day. Umm but (pause) noo I don’t think so. (Pause). No, I don’t think we do anything on Monday. We get the day off, most of the time. Except sometimes they like to like if we have too many snow days or something they’ll be like “Nope. You have school.” But I don’t like that. And then we have shirts too. But those are like, you’ve seen my Polish shirt, right? No. Oh, it’s just like, I mean it’s like it’s got it always has like the emblem of like Poland, and then it always like the two people dancing. I should take a picture and send it to you! Um it has two people like dancing then it’ll have like some saying in Polish or like just like and like a picture of the country and stuff. They—they have new ones every year. So that’s cool. [And is this uh a big source of revenue for your town?] Umm not really our town, but our Church. But yes, it’s our biggest event all year because it’s like our town is 200 people but all together like mm—like not a million, god, exaggeration much, umm uhh let me try to give you like an actual round-about number. Um (pause) I would probably say (pause) throughout the day like the amount cuz like nobody comes like some people come for like the Meal, some people come for the Parade, some people come for all of it, so they might not be there the whole time. Uumm. (pause). But a lot of family, like distant relatives will come out and like stay with family I know that umm but I would say (pause). My town’s 200 people and I would say there’s at least probably like (pause) uh I don’t want to overestimate but I’m wanting to say like 5,000. 3-5, let’s say 3-5,000. Cuz it’s really cuz like the streets are packed. That’s all it is. And that’s really honestly why the bars and places cuz they’re open and people can go in because they’re aren’t any other like restaurants in my town. The only things we have that you can go in and like sit down or like do something is the bar and the Church, like where you can eat. So you’re either like walking around outside, like at the Parade route, cuz like the whole town is pretty much the Parade route so I mean you can like walk and you like talk to people you haven’t like seen in forever and like cuz like that’s why I go plus it like brings all of the counties together. So people that I went to like grade school with that went to like different high schools and stuff so that’s why I love it, it’s a social event.”

My informant sees Pulaski Day as a reflection of his “heritage.” He believes that his town celebrates the festival as a way to go back to their “roots” and be proud of their history, while getting to party. He says that the festival unifies the town and gives the residents a chance to display their immense pride in being Polish. Additionally, on a practical level, he thinks the town will continue to host the festival because the Church and the bars make a lot of money during that weekend. I agree with my informant that these are many of the main reasons that DuBois, Illinois puts on the Casmir Pulaski Day festival. Given the size of his town, about 200 residents, and when the town began hosting the festival, in the 1980s, I believe that the festival also reflects a desire in the town to connect with a larger community. In the 1980s, with the development of the computer and the mainstreaming of television, the world started to be more and more connected. As residents of DuBois saw a larger outside world, they may have wanted to bring some of that world into their town. With a large Polish population in the Illinois area, having a festival that celebrates this common identity would connect DuBois with 1000s of people from outside of the town. The festival also relies on cultural customs from outside of the town, and even outside of the country; they use traditional Polish costumes and sing in Polish during the Mass. The general theme of the festival, Polish-American pride, suggests that the participants wanted a more global identity, even while they reinforce and establish their own local community. The festival is a social event that allows the residents of DuBois to express pride in their local identity while connecting that identity to a larger community.