I often get asked about my passion for my Polish heritage and what sustains it. Usually, I just respond with some generic statement such as “Oh, I have family there.” But, honestly, I also have family in Arizona, and you don’t see me writing a blog about cactuses.
The truth is, I don’t often think about why I love Poland so much; I just do. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, however, I’ve decided to get to the bottom of this.
Why do I love you, Poland? Let me count the ways…
For me and many other people of Polish descent, Poland provides a sense of identity and belonging. Deep down, everybody wants to feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. It’s why, I believe, some people follow a sports team so religiously, while others maintain close ties with their college fraternity or sorority.
As someone of Polish descent, I share a close bond with others like me. We understand each other and our ways. Whenever I attend the Polish Constitution Day Parade in Chicago, I am happily swallowed up by that sea of red and white; people from all over, and from all walks of life, come together and are joined in their common Polish identity. It’s beautiful. I don’t really follow sports, but I get that same feeling of excitement and unity whenever I’m around other Poles.
In many ways, the modern world has instilled in us a common material culture which often shuns the past and instead encourages constant advancement toward our own personal enrichment. It’s all about “living for today” (YOLO). The result is that we lose our roots. Many young Poles I’ve met actively forget, ignore or even mock their ancestors’ traditions.
It’s the opposite for me. I embrace Polish traditions, such as Wigilia, Zaduszki, Święconka, etc. They keep me grounded and connected to something much older and bigger than myself. To me, modernity is often cold and devoid of any deeper meaning or emotion. Honoring tradition is not simply liking old stuff, but rather respecting the immemorial wisdom and solidity that the past can offer us in this crazy world.
Polish history fascinates me because it’s so much older and deeper than U.S. history. After all, there are many churches and castles in Poland two or three times older than my country. To be sure, I’m a history buff at heart and enjoy all history, but having physically visited and touched some of Poland’s most historical places, like Wawel Hill, makes it so much more real for me. Going back to identity, I feel like I am a part of that history, that my roots go back centuries and are evident in the towering Saint Mary Basilica in Krakow or the mysterious ruins at Ogrodzieniec. U.S. history is my history only because I live here. Polish history is my origin.
Before I go further, let me be clear that Poland is NOT the potato growing, babushka-wearing backwater that many foreigners might envision it to be. It is a first world country with modern infrastructure and technology.
At the same time, when you get away from the big cities like Warsaw and Krakow and into small hamlets like Lipnica Murowana in southern Poland, the atmosphere and tempo becomes very different.
In some Polish hamlets, time does in fact seem to have paused—it’s history and tradition thriving in the modern age. I remember having to stop our car while driving down a rural road to let a farmer and his cows pass by. I also remember taking a walk down a bucolic dirt path with nothing but the sound of wind rustling through the grass and the sight of pure, hilly farmland for miles. True, maybe you’ll see scenes like this in certain rural parts of other countries, but I saw them in Poland, which is what made the difference for me.
Most important of all, I’ve always felt a sense of belonging to Poland because I have so many family members there. None of the other points would matter as much if it wasn’t for this personal connection. I’m also part Italian, and I’m sure, if I visited Italy, I would get plenty of identity, tradition, history and simplicity. But, to my knowledge, I have no family in Italy so it would be a temporary crush instead of a long-term love.
My late grandmother was always the reason I visited Poland as a child and, along with my mom, played the most important role in building my love of that country. Aside from that, the hospitality I experienced in Poland always made an impression. Neighbors would visit at a moment’s notice and sometimes even walk in without knocking. Everyone would always bring each other gifts, even if it was a bouquet of flowers.The warmth and love I felt there, and continue to feel there, is amazing and serves as the cornerstone of my love for Poland.
Of course, I still kept things somewhat general on this list ( You can check out 50 specific things I always miss when I leave Poland here). Unlike an article that might list out individual Polish things I like, I hoped to reach a deeper level here. Why do you love Poland?
Want to know more about my Polish story?