NEW BRITAIN - More than 35,000 people from near and far flocked to Broad Street Sunday to share in a gigantic show of Polish pride.
In its eighth year, the annual Little Poland Festival was bigger than ever before. It was also warmer, after organizers moved the event from April to June for the first time.
“I had a little bit of a different vision for this year’s festival -less hats, less scarves and less gloves,” said Organizer Darek Barcikowski, cofounder of White Eagle Media, which publishes the largest Polish-language newspaper outside of Poland.
The event drew local residents of Polish and non-Polish descent, but also thousands of people from across Connecticut and New England.
“It’s the greatest fair in America,” Gov. Ned Lamont said as he addressed the crowd from the main stage.
Polonia Business Association President Adrian Baron thanked visitors for attending and supporting the city’s many Polish-owned shops and restaurants.
“What a wonderful crowd and beautiful weather,” Baron said. “We’ve got double the vendors, more food and lots of special guests this year. We appreciate everyone for supporting Little Poland.”
The neighborhood’s Polish eateries set up booths on the street, their staff frying potato pancakes and pierogi, grilling kielbasa and dishing out plates of traditional cuisine to hungry festival-goers all day long and well into the evening.
“We’re very, very busy,” Baltic Restaurant Manager Matthew Karwowski said as he flipped sizzling Polish sausages on a grill pan.
“As a Polish family who has been in business over 20 years, it’s amazing to be a part of this Polish festival,” Kawowski added. “It’s very special everyone can come together to celebrate Polish food and culture.”
Monroe resident Niko Musial walked Broad Street waving a Polish flag in one hand, the other hand clenched in a proud fist high in the air.
“This is awesome,” Musial said. “I’ve been coming the last five years and it’s gotten bigger and better each time.”
Sacred Heart Parish received a special dedication on the main stage, located right below the towering stone church, a beacon in Little Poland.
“It’s the 125th anniversary of Sacred Heart Parish,” Baron said. “There would be no Little Poland without Sacred Heart,” he added, presenting a plaque to the Rev. Msgr. Daniel Plocharczyk.
The reverend then led a prayer in Polish, echoed by Polish-speaking people on stage and in the crowd.
“For those who don’t understand Polish, I called upon God to send his blessed mother to watch upon us as we celebrate this beautiful festival,” he explained.
Guests also included mascots Stanley the Dragon and Maya the Bee, state representatives and senators, Common Council members, Mayor Erin Stewart, New Britain Police and Miss Polonia Connecticut Nicole Karlikowski.
Milford resident David Purcell and his 9-year-old daughter Natalie enjoyed the event, one of countless special occasions they’ve celebrated together in New Britain.
“We’ve been coming here for many, many years,” Purcell said. “Either for dinner or the Little Poland Festival. Her mother’s from Poland - first generation. This is as authentic a Polish experience as you can get outside of Brooklyn.”
The Rich Badowski Blues Band entertained passers-by.
“This is as much fun as a Polish person can have, playing at the Little Poland Festival,” the frontman said while taking a short break to refill his beer cup and eat some Polish food.
Jelly-filled, sugar-dusted Polish donuts called paczki served as both a snack and entertainment later on in the day, during a paczki-eating contest. The competition attracted past winners and new contenders alike.
Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at 860-801-5097 or firstname.lastname@example.org.