The workshop helps others understand Polish-American traditions, a folklorist said.

By Elise Mckeown Skolnick

Traditions from a family’s heritage are often passed from generation to generation.

But frequently, some get lost along the way. And often, the reasons for doing the traditions in the first place are lost, too.

So members of the Krakowiaki Polish Folk Circle decided to combine a fundraiser with a workshop to help people remember or learn Polish-American traditions.

The artistry of Wigilia workshop and celebration Saturday at St. Joseph the Provider Church in Campbell offered participants the chance to sample traditional Polish Christmas Eve foods and homemade baked goods.

Lessons in making oplatek wafers, desserts and ornaments also were offered.

According to Polish tradition, Christmas Eve, or Wigilia, is celebrated with a meatless dinner. It begins with the breaking and sharing of oplatek, a thin wafer.

“Whether you’re in America or Poland or another country,” said Lawrence Kozlowski, a Slavic folklorist in charge of the workshop, “this wafer would then be shared with wishes for the coming year, with forgiveness for the coming year, and with the peace, love and joy of the family. It unites the family, really across the world.”

He showed participants how to make the wafer using a mixture of flour and water, and then baking it between two engraved plates.

A third-generation Polish- American, Kozlowski grew up a bit envious of other’s turkey and roast Christmas Eve dinners. His family was eating fish, pierogies, and noodles and cabbage (haluski) for dinner.

“All those meatless kind of things which didn’t seem very festive to us,” he said. “But now again, it’s a way of bringing our family together.”

The Kozar family of Boardman incorporates Polish traditions into their Christmas celebrations but want to include more.

“I’m here to teach my children more about their Polish traditions,” Toni Kozar said.

I’ve always wondered why we did the wafer thing at Christmas,” said her daughter Jessica, 12. “So I want to learn about that.”

Someday she hopes to continue the traditions with her own children.

Her brother, Joey, 4, and sister, Gianna, 6, enjoyed the craft projects.

“People sort of wonder why do we do these things,” Kozlowski said.

“We don’t know; we just do them. Well, there are reasons why all these things were done.”

He explained the reasons Saturday and discussed how some have changed over time — and why they should continue.

“It’s important that we continue these things and keep them alive because they make us who we are as Polish-Americans,” he said.

The Krakowiaki Polish Folk Circle is a nonprofit, community-based organization meant to give participants an appreciation of Polish culture and heritage through exploration of dance, music, language study and folk art.

Krakowiaki’s youth dancers and adult choir perform throughout the region at various civic, community and private events.

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