Casimir Pulaski Day

Jam of the week: “Casimir Pulaski Day” by Sufjan Stevens

I hope everyone had a happy Casimir Pulaski Day this Monday. Before you go rushing off to Google who that is, Casimir Pulaski was born in Poland and was a cavalry officer who trained soldiers during the American Revolutionary War. He died from wounds inflicted at the Siege of Savannah in 1779.

The holiday is one of a few, odd little things that I and others that have lived in Illinois are accustomed to. The state declared the first Monday of every March in memory of his service, largely due to Chicago’s polish population and ancestry.

Pulaski was made an honorary American citizen in 2009 by a joint resolution of the U.S. House and Senate. The list of people to receive honorary American citizenship is only seven people long, and includes former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Mother Teresa.

That background brings us to an obvious question. How do you properly celebrate a day dedicated to a long dead war hero? My experience with riding horses is limited to being thrown from a saddle several times in my youth, so I don’t think I could help teach others to ride horses as Pulaski did. My knowledge of polish cuisine is limited to what I’ve eaten at family gatherings in Chicago, and I don’t dare try to attempt any of those recipes.

I do the best I can to celebrate the holiday. A good portion of it is explaining the history of the holiday to Iowa natives who think I’m crazy for knowing all that information. If it makes you feel any better, I was reminded it was Casimir Pulaski Day by several texts that friends from back home sent me. In truth, my favorite part of the holiday is that it gives me an excuse to talk to all of those friends from Illinois who are also celebrating in spite of it being another cold Monday in winter. Few of them can cite any polish heritage, and even fewer can say they know how to properly celebrate a holiday.

I’ve wrote several columns that discuss the meanings of such days, what intrinsic meaning they might hold, and how people celebrate them. I suppose it’s interesting to me because it’s a day where people will divert from their daily lives to take part in public rituals that sometimes seem arbitrary. Even as someone with a similar heritage and a last name that’s hard to pronounce, I can say with certainty that it doesn’t get more arbitrary than Casimir Pulaski Day.

Personally, to celebrate the holiday, I just try to do something different. I chatted with friends I haven’t seen in ages, I talked to my parents on the phone for a half hour, I ate a delicious polish sausage dinner and I wore a red hoodie that has “Polish Pride” written on it in white while I dusted off my bass guitar. It’s not exactly a parade, but I increasingly find that as I keep working that giving yourself those little holidays, those breaks from the norm, are special and important.