PolishFest 2022 spreads cultural knowledge and awareness on campus


Nate Yonamine | Senior Staff Photographer

Two children dance during Sunday’s Polish Festival in the Cathedral of Learning.

By Gabriella Garvin, Staff Writer

Upon entering the Cathedral of Learning Commons Room on Sunday, a rich aroma of fried dough and pierogies and the sounds of Lithuanian and Polish folk music greeted around 150 visitors.

The Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs hosted PolishFest 2022 to provide the Pitt student body with a richer sense of Polish, Lithuanian and Carpatho-Rusyn culture. The festival included Easter egg decorating artist demonstrations, Christmas Eve wafer tastings, a violinist and a Lithuanian choir who performed folk songs, as well as food and jewelry vendors.

Mark Jesko, a PolishFest vendor who displayed egg artist demonstrations, said the event offered lots of knowledge and excitement for participants.

“I’m happy they’re hosting something like this,” Jesko said. “It has been so much fun talking to everybody — having them learn about our culture, and really spreading the joy.”

Attendees look at a table of matryoshka dolls and other trinkets on sale at Sunday’s Polish Festival in the Cathedral of Learning.
(Nate Yonamine | Senior Staff Photographer )

Jesko said creating decorated eggs has been a hobby of his for more than 40 years and has demonstrated his techniques all over the country.

“I have demonstrated in Washington. I have demonstrated in the White House. My work was taken into one of the museums in Eastern Slovakia,” Jesko said. “It’s really about keeping these traditions alive.”

To decorate the eggs, he uses a straight pin and melted beeswax.

“You take a straight pin and melted beeswax and use them to make strokes on the egg. And when you’re finished you dye it, and take it out of the dye,” Jesko said. “Then you melt the wax off, and you’re finished.”

Krystyna Jadlowiec, a PolishFest volunteer who was in charge of the making of Christmas Eve wafers, said the wafers symbolized a variety of things in her culture.

“We are doing Christmas wafers, which are a Polish and Slovish tradition of breaking the bread before Christmas Eve supper. The head of the house begins prayer and breaks the Christmas wafer — made from flour and water,” Jadloweic said. “It is a symbol of forgiveness, as well as a prayer for the living and deceased. And then you can sit down for supper.”

Dancers perform during Sunday’s Polish Festival in the Cathedral of Learning. (Nate Yonamine | Senior Staff Photographer )

Jadloweic said her husband, who is now deceased, loved the tradition of wafer sharing and the values it represents.

“My husband, he passed away, but he was a Polish American — second or third generation. He was very involved with this tradition as well,” Jadloweic said. “So I am following that tradition.”

Jadloweic said the tradition of the Christmas Eve wafer attracted a wide variety of people at PolishFest this year. 

“The people we have here stopping by are many different ages. We had a very young lady who I thought came just to take a sample. And here, she wanted to buy her whole family the Christmas wafers,” Jadloweic said. “Then we had a middle-aged couple. It’s interesting how the tradition keeps going. People of all different ages, and even people who never knew about it — the traditions — are interested to see and hear our story.”

Ilene Kubik, a Pitt alumna who graduated in December 2021, said she felt drawn to the event when she saw it advertised in a Polish deli because of her Polish heritage. She said she brought a friend along with her.

“I have a really big Polish heritage and background and I like to come up to the deli up in the Strip District a lot. They had fliers and that’s why I came and dragged Sunyanna along,” Kubik said.

A clergyman takes pictures with children during Sunday’s Polish Festival in the Cathedral of Learning.
(Nate Yonamine | Senior Staff Photographer )

Kubik added that she hopes events like these draw an even bigger, more diverse crowd in the future.

“I feel like it was advertised mostly to the Polish community and maybe not outside of it, which is probably why I heard about it and [my friend] didn’t, because I go to the Polish deli all the time. But even there, it wasn’t really like ‘Hey come out here!’” Kubiak said. “I think it’s probably more community-based and if they want more outside community interaction it should be advertised as such to try and bring more people in to learn more about our culture.”

Sunyanna Anderson, a Pitt Greensburg senior majoring in psychology who attended the festival, said PolishFest was not widely known about on the satellite campus.

“I would say to the University to advertise more to the secondary campuses. I feel a lot of people would really enjoy it,” Anderson said. “It’s really great to be able to see some of the things that people can create.”

Anderson said trying pierogies for the first time was an interesting experience.

“It was very different from what I’m used to having, so I loved the experience and am really glad that I tried it,” Anderson said. “I would definitely say just be open to try new things. Even if it doesn’t look the best, just try it anyway.”