LINDEN, N.J. — There were polkas, pierogies, plenty of dancing and food vendors at the city’s inaugural Polish Heritage Day Festival on Saturday, Oct. 5, at Raymond Wood Bauer Promenade, and the festival achieved its goal of bringing people into Linden.
“The idea was to bring people from outside of Linden into Linden, Councilman Peter Brown said. “What we’ve been trying to do is a one Linden philosophy. This is a modern education arts district … We saw a lot of parents there with their children, that was the main goal. We had a bigger crowd than what we had expected.”
The festival also featured Polish art and pottery, locals dressed in traditional Polish clothing and people of all ages in attendance, dancing in the amphitheater while music played.
Brown and council President Michele Yamakaitis had intended to host a Polish Heritage Day Festival for the past two years but worried it would not have a good turnout as it was the day before the Pulaski Day Parade in New York City, an event held annually since 1936 in honor of American Revolutionary war hero Casimir Pulaski.
“Next year, what I’d like to see … is extend it down to the train station where we have some Polish stores, and to get some of our community partners involved,” Brown said.
Yamakaitis, too, was already thinking about next year. This year she asked for input from the Polish Supplementary School of Karol Wojtyla, which was named for Pope John Paul II.
“We planned the event in the summer, and we would like to get the Cultural Heritage Committee more involved in the event,” she said. “The Polish school thought it would be a good way to find more community involvement. Linden is such a big melting pot. The festival had the different aspects of culture, we had the Polish pottery and art. We did a pierogi eating contest.”
Yamakaitis said there were aspects of the festival that can be improved for next year, saying, “If there is something we can change, we will get more food vendors. We will get more translation from Polish to English. I’m just happy that we were able to get this to come together, because we’ve been talking about this for two years now.”
Halloween Parade Chairman Richard Kozoil said the Polish festival took less than a month to plan.
“When they found out that this is going to happen, people came out of the woodwork to try to help,” he said. “We said, ‘let’s make this happen’ and we were amazed with the turnout. When you focus on culture and you get rid of politics, it’s really a good thing.”
Beata Leska, the owner of Zabka: Polish Delicatessen, a large Polish supermarket in Linden, described the turnout as a “nice surprise.”
“We are from Poland and this is our tradition,” she said. “We love Polish food and we want to share it with others.”