Moja Miłość do Kolęd — My love of Polish Carols

One of my earliest childhood memories of Christmas is going to midnight Mass (after our traditional Christmas Eve dinner–Wigilia) and hearing the choir at my grandparent’s decidedly Polish Catholic Church in rural Thorp, Wisconsin  (St. Hedwig’s) singing Polish Christmas Carols–kolędy. I recall my amazement when they sang “Silent Night” with strange words:  “cicha noc, święta noc.…”  And I recall a few others that they sang, including the beautiful melody of Lulajeże Jezuniu–it sounds like a lullaby, which it is! And then there was the magnificent strains of Triumfy–even the names sounds like a trumpet call of magnificent proportions! And there were others as well, but those three I remember the most for their uniqueness and significance in my memory.

But Midnight Mass (Pasterka) and the accompanying kolędy was more than just the Mass and song, it was the whole experience of the magic of Christmas, and as child I was (fortunately) brought up experiencing a decidedly Polish cultural experience of Christmas–and I am forever grateful to my Polish grandparents and parents for giving me that experience, I am truly blessed. My first Christmases were immersed in the Polish experience of Christmas, and I have never outgrown that. I remember the passing of the opłatek at Wigilia, the Polish phrase we were “forced” to say after Grandpa’s prayer in Polish (we had to respond: daj Boże miłosierdzie–God have mercy), that was particularly memorable–and I’ve give most anything today to know what it was Grandpa prayed in Polish, but I knew it was good, for family, for health, for prosperity, and for God’s blessings on the family for another year. And then there was the food of the gods–pierogi! OMG, I loved pierogi and it was something we only enjoyed at Christmas, but my, how we enjoyed them. [As a teenager one year, my brother and I had a pierogi-eating contest and I think I ate 14 of them, and he about the same!]

So for me, Christmas has always been very special and decidedly Polish in nature. For many years now, I celebrate Wigilia in my own home, with family and friends, sharing “my” Polish Christmas customs with them. My dream is to one year spend Christmas in Poland, but even if I don’t, I feel like I’ve already done it, and been doing it for many years.

But this article is about my love of kolędy, and my, how I love them! I own probably about 30 or more CDs of kolędy by many various artists. And I listen to all of them every year during the Christmas season. I listen to kolędy in my car, on headphones as I’m walking, in the house–I listen everywhere. And I sing along. Yes, I do. Out loud, too! Some years back I made (and continue to update) my own booklet of the text of the kolędy (po polsku, oczywiśće), and I know the words of many of them by heart, at least a few verses, and most all the choruses. I know the meaning of some of the words–but not all–but am working on that as well. I’ve found or created literal translations of some of the kolędy and that helps me as I work to learn Polish myself. I have several music books and play kolędy  on my keyboard or the guitar. I have a lot of Facebook and YouTube sites where I can find, listen to, and enjoy kolędy. And every so often I find a new one that just gives me no end of joy.

I recall a few years ago when i first discovered “Polish Village Christmas,” a series of Polish Christmas folks song done in górale style–I am 1/4 góral by the way.  The one particular song was Ej Byliśmy Bracia–Hey We Were Brothers–and I just loved the bright melody. And then I’ve found so many haunting renditions of Oj maluśki, maluśki–what a beautiful song. I could go on and on about all the kolędy I love, but I love all of them! My love of kolędy is just amazing to me. There are so many great koledy, new and old, that I could go on and on and on. To pick only a few seems somewhat unjust, as there is no kolęda that I’ve not fallen in love with.

In closing, why not leave me a comment here about your favorite kolęda–what is it and why. I’d enjoy hearing from you. I’ve only touched the surface here, and maybe I can learn of one I have not heard before–that would bring joy to my heart!

Posted in culture, Kolędy, Kolędy translations, music, My love of Poland | 3 Comments

Happy Birthday, Marie Skłdowska Curie

Today, November 7th, 2017, marks the 150th anniversary of one of the greats in the history of Physics and Chemistry, the birthday of Marie Skłodowska, born this day in 1867 in Warsaw, Poland (then a part of the Russian Empire during the partition of Poland).

Initially, she studied clandestinely in Warsaw and later moved to Paris, eventually getting her higher degrees there, meeting and marrying her husband, Pierre Curie, and later sharing the 1903 Nobel prize in physics with him and Henri  Becquerel.

She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win the Nobel prize twice, the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences, and was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.

Among her achievements:

  • The development of the theory of radioactivity (a term she coined).
  • Development of techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes.
  • Discovery of two elements, Polonium (named after her native Poland) and Radium.
  • During World War I, she developed mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals.

Though she became a French Citizen (remember, Poland as a country did not exist during this time), the retained her Polish identity, taught her daughters the Polish language, and  took them on visits to Poland. Perhaps this is why she named the first chemical element she discovered (1898) Polonium–in honor of her native Poland.

Marie Curie (often known as Madame Curie) died in 1934 due to her exposure to radiation in the course of her scientific research and exposure during her radiological work during World War I in field hospitals.

As you may well surmise, she is highly honored and regarded across the whole world today, and especially so in her beloved native Poland.

Read more here:

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Time for a short history lesson. September 1939, Germany invades Poland and World War II breaks out. Poland’s allies do not honor their alliances, and weeks later, the Soviet Union splits Poland with Germany. Poland has been conquered. Or has it? Poland remained steadfast in its desire for Independence, and even though given up as a sacrificial lamb to Stalin and the Soviet Union after the “end” of the war, the war was not truly over for Poland–it raged on in some form until 1989. Finally, Poland was free again.

It’s a long story, but you can get the short story version of it by watching this short, 4-minute video: “Unconquered.”

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Sibiracy is the plural of the Polish word Sibirak. In general, it refers to Poles who were “resettled” to Siberia. But in the context of today, February 10, it refers to the one or more million Poles who were actively forced from their homes in what had been Poland by the Soviets, beginning in 1940 and continuing into 1941. In the middle of the night, Soviet soldiers rounded up Polish families, gave them a few minutes to gather their possessions (wahtever they could carry) and loaded whole families into packed cattle cars, taking them on a many weeks long journey to Siberia. Once in Siberia, they were herded into crude barracks and put into forced labor. Many died. After the war turned with the German invasion of the Soviet Union, there was a general amnesty given. Maybe 1/5 of the Poles ever made it out of Siberia, some walking a thousand or more miles. Many died on the way. The survivors who endured today are called Sibiracy.

I wrote more about this topic a few years ago here: It still boggles my mind. Over a million people, and so few returned. And even more puzzling, this is not taught in any history books I ever read in school. It’s a mostly forgotten story. But it’s certainly worth telling now, and honoring the memory of all those lives lost, youth stolen from children, families ripped apart, lost opportunities, just tragic, very tragic…..

Posted in history, History of Poland, Kresy | 1 Comment

To Fry, or Not to Fry…That is the Question!

My mother’s mother’s parents were both from a small village in what was then Galicia, later Poland between the World Wars, and is now Ukraine. My Great-Grandfather was Polish, and my Great-Grandmother was Ruthenian. Since my earliest childhood memories, had pierogi for Christmas Eve dinner every year, and they were always boiled. Yet today if you go to Poland or talk to many other Polish people, even here in the USA, they fry their pierogi before serving them. Why fried? It’s not what I grew up with in my very Polish household.

I guess a better question is, “Why not?”  In truth, I now prefer my pierogi fried, and I think it adds a layer of flavor to them. I always fry mine now. For Wigilia I serve them with sour cream and with fried onions. At other times of the year, I add chopped bacon to the onions. But the question has always puzzled me as to why my mother, her mother (my grandmother), and my mother’s mother (my great-grandmother), only boiled them, and never fried them. I believe the answer is in the regional nature of foods, how dishes, even such widely Slavic dishes like pierogi, change over various regions.

Today if you go to Ukraine, you will be served the Ukrainian version of pierogi, called varenyky. They are in general never fried, only boiled. [They also have a small cousin, pelmeni, which are very small, almost like tortellini, but also boiled only.] I think my great-grandmother simply cooked as the people in her region did, and that’s that they made these little dumplings of goodness (called pierogi in Polish and varenyky in Ukrainian) and boiled them and served them that way. It’s how it was done in that area of the Kresy, the borderlands of Poland. So, in Poland pierogi are usually boiled then fried, but in the eastern areas, varenyky are only boiled. Yet they are basically the same thing. Pierogi, varenyky, basically the same thing.

So, the end result? Well, do what you like with them, call them what you’re comfortable calling them (pierogi, varenyky — also called Pyrohy, Pedehey, or heaven on a plate).  Fry them or not, they are still wonderful. There is no right or wrong, there is only the enjoyment of these wonderful, delightful dumplings that are popular throughout the Slavic world with some variations. Smacznego!

Posted in culture, food, Kresy, My Polish Family | 5 Comments

Ukraine Independence Day

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Independence of modern day Ukraine. The “original” so-called independence of the Soviet controlled Ukrainian’s People Republic was celebrated as January 22, 1918, but when the Soviet Union broke up in the late 1900’s, the Ukraine Parliament issued a new Declaration of Independence from the Soviet Union on August 24, 1991.

I was fortunate that I was visiting Ukraine in 2011 as they celebrated their 20th year of Independence from the heavy hand of the Soviet Union. I was a parade, speaker, flags, balloons, flowers, and many speakers. It was a joyous day, and I managed to celebrate it in two different cities, people gathered all over to celebrate. We saw our first celebration in Chernivtsi, and later in the day we were in Kamieniec Podolski where people were gathered in the park at night, celebrating. Check out those previous blog posts for some pictures as well.

Ukraine’s history is still being written as Russian aggression has been trying to tear her apart, but much of the world has stood strong with Ukraine. And, especially for western Ukraine, her history (and people) are tied inexorably to that of Poland, and much of western Ukraine was at one time Poland. But for today, happy independence day to the people of Ukraine.

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Polish Operation of the NKVD (1937–38)

Today marks another grim anniversary in the history of Polish people. It was on this day in 1937 that the order was signed, giving the Soviet Secret Police (NKVD) the go-ahead to root out so-called “Polish Spies.” What this really meant was the roundup of all Polish males and their subsequent sentence to death, carried out within days. In all, 139,835 people were arrested and of that, 119,091 were summarily executed. The remaining 24,744 were sentenced to slow death–the labor camps where they died due to exposure, malnutrition, and overwork.

What about the wives and children? The wives were given 5-10 year sentences in labor camps in Siberia, and the young children put in orphanages and raised as Russians with no knowledge of their roots. And what about elderly parents? They were left to fend for themselves, often with nothing. Many subsequently died. The total death count as a result of all of this is estimated to be about 250,000. Their crime? They were Polish, nothing else. The hardest hit areas were of course western Ukraine, on the border with Poland.

When you read about current events in Poland and the Polish desire to remove exiting monuments to the Soviet “liberators” of Poland in World War II, maybe this will help you understand why there is no love lost between Poland and Russia, which continues to this day.

You can read more details about this tragedy here:

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Tomorrow is a day I hate to think about…

Tomorrow is August 1st, 2016, but I will be thinking about what happened 72 years ago, the Warsaw Uprising.

Pamiętam — I remember

70 Years Ago Today

Hard to Believe What Was Happening 69 Year Ago….

Every August 1st…..Warsaw Remembers



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General Władysław Sikorski

Why am I writing about a Polish here, Władysław Sikorski, on what in the United States is a National Holiday, our Independence Day, the Fourth of July?  Well, on this day in history, 04 July 1943, a Pole who fiercely worked to attain and protect Poland’s Independence died, albeit tragically.

Władysław Sikorski (Władysław Sikorski) helped organize and fought in the Polish underground that opposed Russia before World War I. He was a leader in the army that defeated the Soviet Union after World War II–most notably in the Battle of Warsaw–which helped guarantee Poland’s newfound Independence after 127 years of foreign domination. Sikorski held a number of posts in that new government, including Prime Minister.

After Poland was again ripped apart and split by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in the early days of World War II, Sikorski became the Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief of the Polish government in exile, working tirelessly to help secure Poland’s place al a leader among the Allies.

He was tragically killed on 04 July 1943 when his plane crashed on takeoff from Gibraltar. Hi was a leader of the Polish cause and his death was  a severe setback for the cause. No Pole after him had the influence and power he had with the Allies, and to this day some “conspiracy theorists” refuse to believe that his death was an accident, but rather blame the Soviets who coveted (and eventually dominated) Poland in a post-war world.

But on this day so many years ago, another person who fought for Independence died. You can read more about Władysław Sikorski here:

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The Savior of Christendom

I have a special place in my heart for Jan III Sobieski (1629-1696), King of Poland from 1674 until his death in 1696. Perhaps in part this is because I have read all about him in the excellent book “JAN SOBIESKI: The King Who Saved Europe” by Miltiades Varvounis, an excellent read, well worth your time. Perhaps in part it’s because I have visited many of the key places in his life, including his birthplace, Olesko, and visited some of the sites of notable battles in his live, including Chocim and a number of others places. But I will always remember him as the person who “stepped up to the plate,” so to speak. When all of Christian western Europe was threatened by a vastly superior Turkish force that had laid siege to Vienna, it was Jan III Sobieski, a seasoned military commander, who led an army 1/4 the size of the invading Turks, and decisively defeated them at the Battle of Vienna, thus earning, from the Pope, the title, “Savior of Christendom.” To my mind, Jan III Sobieski saved Europe. We need another Jan III Sobieski today. Today I honor his memory, and remember his life and the day he passed, 320 years ago today. I am honored that in 2010, i was able to visit his tomb in Wawel, Kraków. S. + P.

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