The History of New Britain’s Polish Festivals

By Olivia Jablonski

Managing Editor

The crowd in front of the stage at the Little Poland Festival. Photo by Adrian Baron.

The crowd in front of the stage at the Little Poland Festival. Photo by Adrian Baron.

International festivals have a rich meaning when it comes to celebrating the culture and heritage of a country such as Poland. For almost two decades, the city of New Britain has been known for throwing annual polish festivals for event goers from all over the state of Connecticut to attend. Two of the most popular festivals that occur are the Little Poland Festival and the Dozynki Harvest Festival.

Every April, the Little Poland Festival takes place on Broad Street of the area known as “Little Poland” and it has festival vendors from all over New England selling arts and crafts, handmade jewelry, original paintings, Polish themed items, clothes and music and many more unique items.

“The reasoning behind [the festival] is to celebrate the renaissance of the neighborhood [Little Poland],” organizer Adrian Baron said. Little Poland is a polish-based community that was established back in 2008.

The Dozynki Harvest Festival, organized by Lucian Pawlak, is celebrating its 36th annual event this August, and the event will celebrate its polish heritage which will involve polka music, polish food and beer, folk dancing and plenty of other fun and entertainment. Established in 1981, the Dozynki Festival was held on Broad Street every year until in the 1990s the area started to increase in crime.

“Due to how unsafe it was to be in the area, the city decided to move the festival from Broad Street to Falcon Field, in a park away from everything,” said Baron. He explained that a lot of people missed having a festival on Broad Street. “We decided to take on a task to approach the city of New Britain to designate this area officially as Little Poland,” he said.

“We started trying to rebrand the area, kind of bring the neighborhood back,” Baron said. “Police were arresting gang members that were in the area, you saw more businesses moving in, you saw people cleaning up the property and improving them.”

To celebrate the revival of bringing the community back to Broad Street, Baron decided to bring back the festival to Little Poland and called it the “Little Poland Festival” in 2011. “Our first year it was just in two parking lots, and then in our fifth year we had over 20,000 people attend,” Baron said.

The view from the stage at the Little Poland Festival. Photo by Adrian Baron.

The view from the stage at the Little Poland Festival. Photo by Adrian Baron.

“Throwing a festival such as the Little Poland Fest was an opportunity to showcase polish culture and showcase what the diversity of the city is,” he said. The area of New Britain has been traditionally polish for about a hundred years, Baron said. “A lot of polish families grew up around Sacred Heart Parish, and many of them came to the United States.”

These individuals came to find work at places such as Stanley Works, all of the factories in the area and around the polish parish, Baron explained. “This community and the polish businesses grew,” he said.

Baron said there are approximately 106 businesses in Little Poland, most of them either being polish-themed or owned. Putting on the festivals in the city is “a grass-roots effort,” Baron said. “It’s expensive to put on because there are a lot of city costs, police, clean ups, and public works. It’s a big undertaking—there’s permit fees, there’s rental fees, tent rentals, and band fees,” he said.

To cover the expenses, Baron said that the community does a door to door solicitation of businesses. “We get funded through a variety of sources,” he said. “A lot of local businesses, my law firm for example, other law firms, and other businesses donate money and put in time.”

Two people, such as Dozynki organizer and former mayor of New Britain Pawlak, and Margret Molonski of Staropolska Restaurant help organize the events as well as a lot of business owners, Baron said. “It’s a community effort.”

“I can’t think of any public official who doesn’t enjoy the celebration, the community service, the camaraderie, and the fellowship that occurs at these festivals,” Pawlak said. “Most of the time what happens is that you run into someone you hadn’t seen in 5-10 years and you reestablish that reconnection with the person that has been lost throughout the years.”

Festival Attendees by Sacred Heart Church on Broad St. Photo by Adrian Baron.

Festival Attendees by Sacred Heart Church on Broad St. Photo by Adrian Baron.

“It’s important to have these festivals because with so much interference with social media and all kinds of media, people rarely ever talk to each other face to face anymore,” Pawlak explained. “This gives them an opportunity to chat with neighbors, friends and folks who may have not seen each other in a while.”

These festivals represent a living example of arts, culture and tradition that is uniquely Polish. It is a glimpse into a Polish person’s heritage and a nostalgic walk through their family’s past. And just as important, visitors of different ethnic backgrounds can gain a new understanding of Poland and its people.

The upcoming Dozynki Festival will take place on August 27 and 28. The event will take place on Falcon Field in New Britain at 721 Farmington Ave. Admission is free, parking is $5. The festival will begin on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday.