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Polish Youngstown marks Mardi Gras

LIBERTY — Polish Youngstown kicked off Mardi Gras a little early.

In preparation for Mardi Gras on Tuesday, Polish Youngstown celebrated Mardi Gras on Saturday with its ninth annual Ostatki: A Polish Carnival Celebration at the Youngstown Country Club on Logan Avenue.

Guests at the event were given a passport as they “toured Poland” through a series of guided tastings of imported Polish vodka, beers and liquors. There also was a buffet of elaborate Polish appetizers.

Ostatki is similar to Mardi Gras, but unlike the wild parties usually associated with the latter, Ostatki is more of a cultural celebration.

Those of Polish descent view Ostatki as a last hurrah before Lent, and use it as a final opportunity to indulge on various things that are strictly forbidden during the 40 days of fasting. While the event has strong cultural ties to people of Polish descent, the event was open to anyone.

Director of PolishYoungstown Aundrea Cika Heschmeyer said the organization is thrilled the celebration can be experienced by everyone.

Dr. David Weimer has no Polish heritage, but has been immersed in the culture from his wife, who is half Polish.

“I think Ostatki is a nice celebration leading up to Mardi Gras,” Weimer said.

And for those with Polish ties, the event is authentic to the actual celebrations happening in Poland. One of those people is Ray Vargas.

The Cleveland native was born in America, but his parents are native to Europe. His expectation was for non-Polish and Polish people alike to see how diverse the culture is.

“I think it’s going to show that we’re not all about just polka dancing and kielbasa,” Vargas said.

A portion of the night was dedicated to a vodka tasting. Polish Youngstown brought in different vodkas from various regions of Poland.

“What I think we do different is we always add that level of education to the event,” Agi Khoury, one of the co-founders of PolishYoungstown, said. “They’re going to be learning about why the different bottles are the way they are, why they taste different and why they’re distilled in the different regions of Poland.”

At the end of the night, an Ostatki king or queen was crowned. To determine the winner, celebratory paczki, or Polish doughnuts, were given to the guests. A piece of foil was placed in one of them and whoever took a bite and found the foil was crowned king or queen.

The winner was first-time Ostatki attendee Mary McNally of Youngstown, who won a day at Youngstown Country Club, including a round of golf and dinner.

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