Polish Fest brings food and fellowship to Oakland


Sarah Cutshall | Senior Staff Photographer

Lajkoniki dancers from Holy Family Catholic Church perform traditional Polish dances during Polishfest in the Cathedral of Learning Commons Room Sunday.

By Sarah Connor, Culture Editor

Penn Hills resident Bobbie Piekarski sat at a table in the Cathedral of Learning on Sunday with a candle, small pieces of clear wax in the shape of hearts, a bowl of water and a large Gothic key. Guests of all ages lined up to have their futures read aloud to them. Piekarski was a part of the 2018 Polish Festival, bringing the Polish tradition known as St. Andrew’s Eve fortune-telling to the event.

“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years,” Piekarski said. “It’s amazing because a lot of the same people come back every year. This year, there’s a girl here who I used to see all the time when she was a little girl. She’s here today and she’s 24 and pregnant with her first baby.”

Piekarski practices her art of fortune-telling by melting one of the small pieces of wax in a ladle over the candle then spilling the melted wax into the water. As the wax cools in the water, it hardens into a bubbly shape. The shape and thickness of the wax piece determines how Piekarski reads your future.

“There’s a heart shape, which means you have a good heart, and there’s bridges, which usually mean there’s going to be some decisions you’ll have to make,” she said to one guest.

Aside from the futuristic fortunes that Piekarski brings to the event every year, she loves how it brings people out into the community and helps her connect to other people of Polish heritage.

“Seeing the people come back every year is important to me,” she said. “It keeps the tradition alive, especially since Christmas is coming and that is such a big thing [in Polish culture].”

The Polish Festival has been taking place in Pittsburgh every November for the past 33 years, and this year the festival brought many to the Cathedral throughout the day for traditionally Polish dance and music performances, food and vendors. Vendors included independent businesses selling everything from Polish Christmas tree ornaments to hoodies with the Polish flag across the back to homemade fudge.

Christmas traditions were not left out of Sunday’s festivities. The Karuzela Chorus — a choir comprised of all adults — perform Polish holiday carols at this event yearly, all dressed in traditional Polish attire.

Neil Stahurski, the director of the Karuzela Chorus, lined up his singers by the Cathedral’s elevators. They were set to perform after a group of children — also dressed in traditional Polish clothing — wrapped their performance of Polish folk dance.

“We come to the festival every year, and we love it,” Stahurski said. “The food, fellowship and the music make it great.”

The group passed out a program to the audience with lyrics to the carols they were performing, with English translations in addition to the Polish words written in the sing-along lyrics. As the group began singing, the many patrons turned their chairs to face the vocalists.

Guests watching the choir perform ate food brought to the festival by Myrna’s Catering, which featured some popular Polish dishes like pierogies and sauerkraut. The line for the buffet-style food was backed up from one of the Cathedral’s fireplaces to the main entrance. The food is a major attraction of this festival.

One guest who was drawn to the festival by the many diverse, homemade dishes and treats was Carnegie Mellon University junior Austin Saunders.

“I’ve really been wanting some good, home-cooked food lately,” the New Jersey native said. “I’m Lithuanian, so a lot of the Polish food here is similar to what my family is used to. There’s a lot of sweets here, too, which I’m definitely going to check out.”

Saunders and his group of friends soon reached the front of the food line and filled up their plates with the European delicacies.

The festival began at noon and was set to finish up at 5 p.m., but even as the clock reached 4 p.m., the Cathedral was still packed with patrons taking in the Polish atmosphere.

One of the organizations that sponsors the event every year is the Polish Falcons of America — a national Polish-American fraternal society that is headquartered in Green Tree. The organization is intended to celebrate Polish culture and customs, but also sells life-insurance policies.

The turnout at this year’s festival was impressive, but John Denning, the national sales and marketing director of the Polish Falcons of America, shared that the festival tends to bring in a slightly larger number of people than what was seen on Sunday.

“Attendance is a little bit down this year,” Denning, who was sitting at the organizations booth near the entrance to the Cathedral, said. “Usually it’s jam-packed, you can hardly even walk around.”

Despite the slight drop in attendance, Denning still feels the festival is very meaningful, and most importantly, fun.

“The music is great, the people love it,” Denning said. “And the festival brings so many families out to enjoy themselves, which is such an important thing for the culture.”