NEW BRITAIN - Thousands converged on Broad Street Sunday for the biggest party the cityâ€™s Polish neighborhood sees all year.
The sixth annual Little Poland Festival drew thousands of visitors from across New England, coming together for pierogi, polka and Polish pride.
One didnâ€™t have to be Polish to enjoy the dayâ€™s festivities, pointed out the Rev. Joe Napolitano, pastor of St. Annâ€™s Church, whose Italian heritage took a back seat to the dayâ€™s theme.
â€śI like the kielbasa and the people,â€ť Napolitano said as visitors made their way up and down the street balancing cups of beer and steaming plates of Polish food.
It was a sight Polish Consul General Maciej Golubiewski, from the New York consulate, had never experienced, this being his very first visit to New Britain.
â€śIâ€™m absolutely amazed at such a large concentration of Polish people in one town,â€ť said Golubiewski, the guest of city officials Sunday.
â€śIâ€™ve traveled all over and the Poles here are definitely the most numerous Iâ€™ve seen,â€ť he said.
Golubiewski was even more impressed on learning just how deeply Polish-Americans have worked their way into New Britain business, industry and politics.
â€śThe Polish community is truly contributing to the local economy,â€ť he said. â€śThereâ€™s a lot of talent here that needs to be used. Iâ€™m going to try to make it back to the festival every year and keep up good relations with local councilmen to make sure the community is progressing.â€ť
Gathered at festival headquarters beside Sacred Heart Church were members of the Polonia Business Association, the eventâ€™s organizers. They stood alongside New Britain Police Chief James Wardwell, police captains and Miss Polonia Connecticut beauty queens.
â€śWeâ€™re grateful for our PD; they always keep everyone here safe,â€ť association Treasurer Margaret Malinowski said. â€śLast year we had 25,000 people and no incidents whatsoever.â€ť
Rain showers didnâ€™t keep just as many visitors away Sunday, although the main stage had to come down to avoid electrical danger.
Lucian Pawlak, a former New Britain mayor and an icon in the Polish community, led the crowd in Polandâ€™s and the United Statesâ€™ national anthems.
This yearâ€™s Little Poland Ambassador Awards were presented to a lucky few. They included 24-year-old Jessy Matthews, who is involved in nearly every parade and occasion the city hosts. Other 2017 ambassadors were Msgr. Daniel Plochorczyk of Sacred Heart Church and Honorary Consul Darek Barcikowski.
Association President Adrian Baron was happy to meet people from as far away as Philadelphia and Canada.
â€śWeâ€™ve been attracting visitors from everywhere,â€ť he said.
Ten seniors from New Britain High School filled mascot costumes, including Stanley the Little Poland Dragon and Darth Vader.
â€śThey helped us out today and weâ€™re going to help defray the cost of their all-night graduation party,â€ť Baron said.
Polka bands performed up and down the street and red and white dominated everyoneâ€™s attire.
The eagerly anticipated paczki-eating contest closed out the day, with nine contenders vying to finish the most Polish pastry in five minutes.
Christian Batista, 27, of New Britain, and Graham Kist, 28, of Hartford, tied for first place, splitting the $100 grand prize. They both ate five paczki, with Kist nearly finishing a sixth but succumbing to a full mouth as the buzzer sounded. The competitionâ€™s lone female contestant, former Miss Polonia Connecticut Anna Kwasnik, finished one.
The contest was sponsored by the New Britain Herald and Roly Poly Bakery.
Burlingtonâ€™s Adam Hybner and his sisters, Lisa and Leslie, had a flashback to their childhood, when the family would visit the cityâ€™s Polish neighborhood regularly.
â€śOur grandparents lived here,â€ť Lisa said. â€śItâ€™s really great to be back and see everybody together. It feels good to represent our heritage.â€ť
Erica Schmitt can be reached at 860-801-5097, or firstname.lastname@example.org.