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NEW BRITAIN - The annual Polish Dozynki - or, in English, "Harvest Festival" - brought in one of the smallest Saturday night crowds since the festival's inception in New Britain three decades ago.
But organizers, who were proud to be part of the Polish tradition, say they are hoping today's turnout will make up for the initial sparse attendance of only 1,800 to 2,500 people.
"This is the 24th year I've been involved. We usually [draw] 5,000," said Lucian Pawlak, president of the Polish-American Club of Greater New Britain and the city's former mayor.
"In Poland, the harvest festival goes back 1,000 years. In New Britain, we've been celebrating it for 27 years," he added.
Pawlak, a full-blooded Pole, lamented that "the people of Poland today are caught up in becoming Americanized, while Polish-Americans [at least in New Britain] want to slow it down and keep our culture and our traditions. A lot of things that are celebrated here are no longer celebrated in Poland - after the fall of the Soviet Union. They really don't care about tradition in Poland as much as we do in New Britain."
Polish pride did rock the event, which was still an impressive sight, with couples dancing in front of giant mural depicting the harvest to rock music with Polish lyrics.
Falcon Field on Farmington Avenue seemed like a cross between Gorky Park and Disneyland, with the festivity of a University of Connecticut spring weekend and the decorations of a theme park.
During certain songs, it also seemed a little bit like an Eastern European discotheque, said Monica Hermanowski-Defronzo, 24, secretary of the Dozynki Committee, who blamed the poor attendance on hot weather.
"I think it was too warm," she said.
Her father, Democratic Alderman Larry Hermanowski, urged people to come out today for the final day of the celebration. His take on why the Saturday crowd came up short on numbers was that the celebration is usually on the third week of August, but this year's event came a week later - "when a lot of people are taking their kids back to college."
Pawlak noted that for him, the high point of the celebration was the traditional Harvest Mass at 11 a.m., which drew about 500 people, a little more than average.
"It's a Mass of thanksgiving," Pawlak said. "The whole point is that we are thanking God for providing for us."
Mayor Timothy Stewart and Hermanowski said they would like to see if the festival could be held once again on Broad Street, where it began.
But Hermanowski's daughter said she kind of likes it out in the woods.
"Back here, it is easier to have a picnic," she said, because people go there every weekend in the summer for such events.
Roman Nowak, chairman of the Dozynki Committee, however, said "The history of Dozynki is not a street festival. It is a harvest festival."
People who attended said they liked it.
Andy Skrodzki, 45, of Springfield, Mass., said he traveled all the way to New Britain to enjoy the festival because of its traditional reputation.
"So far, so good," he said, around 8 p.m.
Strodzki is an immigrant from the small industrial community of Lomza, Poland, which he said was a great place. "It's like New Britain," he said.
Re: US Polish traditionalists 'celebrate the harvest'
In the UK attendance at such things is also dwindling. It was dwindling several years prior to the EU ascension.
There used to be very well attended dances in Polish centres (never any street parades or anything like that). Not only for dozynki but also for "wianki" the midsummer festival and at Christmas and easter dances. The dances were particularly popular in the 80s because that was the time balls became very popular in UK society. They were really popular with people in their teens and twenties because it was a chance to dress up to the nines and flirt with the opposite sex all with the approval of parents. Pretty civilised affairs (but with a large consumption of alcohol) with a mixture of walz type dancing, folk dancing and (strangely but always a tradition) "zorba the greek" when people were really pissed and falling over. Generally towards the end there would be some drunken teen girl crying in the loos being consoled about some boy who had gone off with another.
The more traditional dances started losing popularity as the old crowd settled down and stopped attending and the new crowd became infused with more and more Poles coming over from Poland in the late 90s. One of the nicest venues in London has been completely ruined now by being turned into a type of Polish nightclub by a new Polish owner. Another really nice one has stopped doing dances two years ago because they had their drink license revoked after complaints from locals about noisy drunks. For so many years this was not a problem.