The Polish SA makes Polish connections at UB

Polish SA brings cultural traditions to UB and Buffalo


Święconka (shve-yen-SOHN-ka), Dyngus Day and Wigilia may be unfamiliar to those who aren’t of Polish decent, but the Polish SA is making sure all of its members live out those traditions as fully as possible.

On Sunday, the Polish SA celebrated Święconka, or “the blessing of the Easter baskets.”While the tradition dates back to the seventh century, the event at UB started six years ago when the previous president felt the club needed a bigger event during the spring semester.

The Polish SA brings many traditional Polish celebrations to UB. Although the number of international Polish students is low, an average of 85 students take Polish language courses, according to Danuta Nycz-Nakamura, a Polish professor at UB.

Polish influence in Western New York, specifically the Greater Buffalo area, can be traced back to 1860, according to the Polish Genealogical Society of New York State. Between 1873 and 1922, Polish Americans established 34 church parishes in the Greater Buffalo and Western New York area. By 1940, there were 76,465 Western New Yorkers of Polish decent.

The Polish SA was founded in 1907, making it one of the oldest clubs on campus.

Katie Ehlers, a senior speech pathology major and president of the Polish club, wanted to bring Polish traditions to UB. Ehlers joined the club after developing a close relationship with Nycz-Nakamura.

“[The Polish SA Board] all took Nycz-Nakamura’s entry level class for learning Polish,” Ehlers said. “She would tell us about Polish club and then when there were elections she asked us if anyone would be interested in joining. She’s the reason we’re all in it.”

Nycz-Nakamura was born and lived most of her life in Poland. She came to America for college as a linguistics major with a minor in Polish, graduating in 1998. She became a professor and faculty adviser of UB’s Polish SA in 2003. As a student, she was a part of the club as well.

Buffalo has the highest Polish population of any other city in the United States, according to the most recent Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

For Nycz-Nakamura, informing students about the large population of Polish residents in Buffalo is exciting, especially because there are differences in the way some traditions are celebrated here opposed to how they’re celebrated in Poland, she said.

“Typical American food is different and polka dancing is so popular in Buffalo, but you don’t dance polka in Poland,” Nycz-Nakamura said.

A typical tradition in Poland when celebrating Święconka is the blessing of the basket and sharing hard-boiled eggs. Families attend mass in the morning and then head home to enjoy a delectable Easter breakfast.

Another difference is Dyngus Day, which is celebrated on Easter Monday and is a bigger celebration in Buffalo than in Poland, according to Nycz-Nakamura.

“Buffalo is actually the capital of the world for Dyngus Day,” Nycz-Nakamura said. “We do not have a parade for Dyngus Day in Poland. In Poland, everyone goes to church and then when you go home, boys always wait for girls to splash them with water. So when you were young, you really ran fast home. Once you get home, you eat Easter breakfast.”

The Polish club walks in the parade on Dyngus Day to represent the polish student population.

Some of the other events hosted by the club include picnics in the fall and spring, kayaking and the Wigilia, a Christmas Eve Polish tradition.

During Wigilia, there is a tradition that families share an oplatek, a Polish wafer of bread that is blessed, and wish each other good health and happiness for the new year.

They also plan to have a potluck where students and members can bring in different Polish dishes on May 1.

Ehlers advises students to come to the meetings and experience what the Polish club has to offer, especially because many of the members, including Ehlers, will be graduating and the board will need to elect new members.

“I don’t speak Polish,” Ehlers said. “I just have a very good relationships with [Nycz-Nakamura] and that was why I came in. You can’t just be someone random and say you want to join and not partake in anything; you have to realize how much work goes into the club.”

Ehlers said the club has helped her to grow as a person.

“I have learned so much more about myself and that there are other cultures that I am interested in,” Ehlers said. “Polish is one of them. We also meet a lot of cool people. I never would have met Sebastian who is studying abroad here from England.”

Sebastian Szlenkier, a junior political science major, joined the club to have a piece of home with him being so far away.

“I am fully Polish,” Szlenkier said. “I came here and got involved in the SA just because I wanted still to have a link back to Poland.”

Nycz-Nakamura joked with the students about how easily Szlenkier could adjust to Buffalo’s weather because it is similar in Poland.

The club also discussed the altered language requirements at UB – like in the English department – and how they’re against foreign language requirements being removed or avoidable. They hope more students will reach out to their club to continue their growth in knowledge of different cultures.

Thomas Travers, a senior sociology major and treasurer of the club, is from Long Island and was unaware of how big the Polish community is in Buffalo. He described it as “eye opening.”

The board members, such as Travers and Ehlers, will always be grateful and remember their time working for the Polish club.

“I’ll miss it,” said Travers, who is graduating this semester. “You don’t realize there’s people from all over this planet here at UB so you might as well talk to them and try to learn something.”

Marissa Fielding is a features staff writer and can be contacted at