08/17/13 5:00pm
08/17/2013 5:00 PM

CYNDI MURRAY PHOTO | ‘Bride’ Joanna Kurzyan and ‘groom’ Patrick Faron perform a traditional Polish dance.

Weddings are in the details. There are dress colors and flower types, themes and dancing. The same is true at the mock wedding hosted Saturday by the Polish Town Civic Association during its annual Polish Town Fair and Polka Festival.

Except the “couple” doesn’t have to fuss with making of any of choices. They follow strict tradition — Polish tradition.

The wedding highlights the customs of a traditional Polish ceremony that dates back hundreds of years, according to festival chairwoman Karen Fleischman.

“It’s generational,” she said. “We have a lot of that here in Riverhead. It’s about carrying on family tradition.”

The nuptials begin sharply at noon with an exchanging of vows at St. Isidore’s Church in Riverhead.

Before long the celebration begins. The music starts up, the young couple and their wedding party march down the street and through the village. The parade consists of the maid of honor, the best man, the ring bearer, the flower girl, the parents of the bride and groom, the godmother and six young maidens.

During the 10-minute march, Polish heritage is on full display. The participants are adorned in traditional costume ­known as krakowiak, named for the Krakow region in Poland where native dress was thought to be uniquely colorful and festive. The members of the Polish Town Civic Association intricately bead the dresses, sparing no details in bringing the Polish tradition to life. Colorful ribbons are pinned to the back of the bride’s headdress, except for the color red, which was thought to cause the newly weds to fight for the rest of the lives.

Another charming quirk — the bride is expected to cry. If she did not, it was believed she would cry through her marriage.

Then it is time for the most important and oldest of the wedding customs. The bride’s hair is unbraided and cut signifying the loss of her life as a single girl and the passing into her new life as a married woman. Of course, this is done using a wig during Saturday’s reenactment.

Finally, it’s time to hit the dance floor for a tradition that takes months of modern day training.

The volunteer bridal party, representing the St. Maximilian Kolbe Polish Dance Group, perfected the traditional wedding dance known as the Grand Polonaise.

“They did a wonderful job,” Ms. Fleischman said. “They practiced for hours. It was a big commitment.”

While most of those traditions have been lost to time, one still remains. The marrying couple is presented with a small piece of bread, sprinkled with salt and a small glass of wine.

The bread symbolizes that the couple shall not want or go hungry, the salt to represent the bitterness in life and the wine to show the sweetness of life.

“It’s one of those heart warming things that stood the test of time,” Ms. Fleischman said. “Some things never change.”

cmurray@timesreview.com

05/26/13 12:43pm
05/26/2013 12:43 PM

KERI NAJDZION COURTESY PHOTO | Ashley Yakaboski of Baiting Hollow has been selected Miss Polish Town USA 2013.

Ashley Yakaboski of Baiting Hollow has been selected Miss Polish Town USA for 2013. Miss Polish Town leads the parade and ceremonies at the Polish Town Fair in August.

First runner up was Anna Klimczuk of Mattituck and second runner up was Tiffany Russo of Hicksville.

KERI NAJDZION COURTESY PHOTO | First runner up was Anna Klimczuk of Mattituck and second runner up was Tiffany Russ of Hicksville.

08/19/12 1:52pm
08/19/2012 1:52 PM

The Polish Town Civic Association food stall was a buzz of activity Sunday afternoon as a crowd gathered along Pulaski Street.

“I need another two orders of pierogies and sour cream!” shouts Lisa Mielnicki from the front of the tent. A few feet away, the volunteers quickly toss the traditional dumplings into a paper container. Before they can catch their breath, another order.

“Another sandwich with kraut!” yells Ms. Mielnicki, and the half-dozen cooks get back to work.

For Lisa, Tom, Gianna, Ariana and Nicole Mielnicki, and Mike Frare and Scott Szczepanik, this has been their Polish Town Fair for years. And these kings and queens of kielbasa would have it no other way.

“It’s the one thing you look forward to each summer,” Ariana Mielnicki said. “You count down the days until the Polish Town Fair.”

See the team in action below as they prepare sandwiches from the 2,300 pounds of kielbasa ordered for the fair.

Read more about the making of kielbasa and pierogies in this week’s News-Review.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTOS | Mike Frare of Center Moriches, who has been volunteering at the Polish Town Fair for the past seven years, serves up the fair’s signature dish — a kielbasa sandwich.

Polish Town Queen First Runnerup Nicole Mielnicki and her sister Ariana prepare some pierogies at the tent on Griffing Avenue and Pulaski Street.

Scott Szczepanik puts the pierogies on the grill at Sunday’s Polish Town Fair. The traditional Polish dumplings are first boiled in water before being thrown on the griddle to give them a little extra crispiness.

Tom Mielnicki (back left) coordinates the food for the Polish Town Fair, and has had family and friends help sell pierogies and kielbasa at the stand for the past three years.

Tom Mielnicki, a Riverhead resident, says he volunteers at the fair each year because of the community. “It’s one of the last things that is actually ‘hometown,’” he said of the fair.

Preperations for the food tents begins the Monday before the fair; volunteers sometimes spend 8-to-12-hour days prepping for the annual event.

Mr. Mielnicki says the fair’s organizers bought 2,300 pounds of kielbasa, all special ordered, for the two-day festival.

08/18/12 5:19pm
08/18/2012 5:19 PM

JOHN NEELY PHOTO | The wedding dance at Saturday’s Polish Fair.

The 38th annual Polish Town Fair and Polka Festival kicked off this morning under rainy skies. It didn’t dampen the spirits for everyone who came out to enjoy a day of crafts, food, arts and carnival.

Polish Town Queen Marta Czaplak and Polish Town Princess Nicole Mielnicki were both on hand for the festivities.

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JOHN NEELY PHOTOS

08/16/12 6:00am
08/16/2012 6:00 AM

SUFFOLK TIMES ARCHIVES | Revelers sing and dance at the first-ever Polish Town Fair in 1975.

“There was dancing in the streets, in the rain and in the puddles.”

That was the lead sentence in our August 1975 story on the very first Polish Town Fair. It was estimated that “thousands” flocked to Pulaski Street that rainy day, downing plate after plate of kielbasa, pierogies and golabki. Many purchased T-shirts that read “Poland” and “Polish Power.”

“Even the Italians and the Englishmen were swaying about and tapping their feet to the polka music which came vibrating through loudspeakers,” we wrote.

The fair, which has for 38 years held its claim as one of the most fun-filled events of summer in Riverhead, returns again this weekend. Tens of thousands more people will come out to celebrate.

So how did the Polish Town Fair come about?

The fair was born in 1975 as a way for the Polish Town Civic Association to raise funds, according to the organization’s website. Some folks suggested a parade. Others called for a polka ball. One idea shone brighter than the rest: “We’ll have a street fair,” the website quotes one unidentified member as suggesting. “Like the ones they have in Poland. It will be a true Polish event.”

That year’s one-day festival, held on Aug. 16, was directed by Al Barbanel, who served as chairman of the fair committee. The date was chosen to coincide with the feast day of the Assumption of Mary — a holiday celebrated by Catholics in Poland and other countries to honor the day the Virgin Mary ascended into Heaven following her death.

Only 50 booths were set up for the inaugural Polish Town Fair. We estimated in our coverage that had organizers set up seven more booths serving Polish pastries that year, those would have sold out, too.

But fair organizers weren’t caught by surprise in 1975.

Former Riverhead tax receiver Irene Pendzick, who helped organize the first event, warned the Town Board a few weeks before the fair that it was growing into something bigger than they’d imagined.

“At first we didn’t plan a major event,” she told the board. “But it’s turning out to look like quite a fair.”

It was. It still is.

Our very first Polish Town Fair story ended with a hopeful wish from the author. It’s something many local folks have repeated in the years since.

“Here’s hoping for a sunny Polish Festival next year,” she wrote. “And more great eats.”