National holidays

Nowadays in Poland we celebrate 24 public holidays, 3 of which are non-working days. Their celebrations are closely connected with the history of Poland. In the period of captivity (partition), WW II or during the existence of a socialist state when some were forbidden or celebrated in a different form than today.

The most important national holidays – days off from work are:

 1st MAY – LABOUR DAY

Celebrated in Polish territories since 1890. Organized by communist and socialist organizations, it was taken in the form of working-class demonstrations, which were during the annexation suppressed by the tsarist authorities, and during the Second Republic by the police. In the People’s Republic of Poland (1945-1989)  the May 1st celebration was a significant state holiday, accompanied by extensive socialist propaganda.

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1 May 1949

Representatives of various establishments and organizations, as well as students participated in marches to promote socialist achievements and political slogans expressing the current views of state politics. Despite changes in the political system after 1989, May 1st remained a public holiday but with a much more modest nature. Parades or ceremonies are organized by leftist parties and trade unions, focusing on defending workers’ rights and social issues.

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Movement for Social Justice: Poland for all, not only for the rich / photo: Andrzej Jan Kuśpit

May 1st is also a church celebration , so on this day special masses are held for Joseph the Worker.

 

3 MAY – NATIONAL OF 3rd OF MAY HOLIDAY

Celebrated to commemorate the anniversary of adopting the May 3rd Constitution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth established in 1791. It was the first constitution of modern Europe and second in the world, following the Americans.

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Jan Matejko: Constitution of 3rd May

It was a significant achievement of the Polish Enlightenment thinkers and designed for reforming and healing the political system, but no longer prevented the collapse of the Polish state, which after two successive partitions (1793, 1795) definitely ceased to exist.

Mazurek 3 Maja – historical song on the occasion of 3rd May

When Poland regained its independence, May 3 became a public holiday (1919). During WW II celebrations were banned by the Germans, and in People’s Republic of Poland officially cancelled May day in 1951 and also banned it because it provided an opportunity for anti-communist and anti-government protests and demonstrations. Since April 6, 1990 the 3rd of May Holiday has again been celebrated as an official statutory holiday in Poland. Official state ceremonies are held in Warsaw at the Castle Square, at the front of the Royal Castle.

3 maja 2012, the Castle Square / photo: R. Motyl, www.um.warszawa.pl

They involve a military parade, and volleys.

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Photo: Marek Angiel

But the 3rd of May Holiday is also a very joyful occasion. Spring events, concerts, family picnics are held throughout Poland.

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May 3rd, 2014 Bydgoszcz / photo: Pit1233

The streets of the Polish capital city see a great number of people running under the slogan “From the 3rd May Constitution to the European Union”.

 

NOVEMBER 11 – NATIONAL INDEPENDENCE DAY

The most important Polish national holiday, which commemorates the day when after 123 years of captivity, Poland regained its independence. On November 11, 1918 the military power was transferred by the Regency Council to Josef Pilsudski, the independence activist and the founder of the Polish armed forces.

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Josef Piłsudski taking the power in November 1918

Established only in 1937, it was celebrated however for just over two years only, since during WW II and in People’s Republic of Poland this holiday was banned. Banned but not forgotten! In 1945-1989 the opposition organized  patriotic demonstrations on this day which were suppressed by the authorities. Reinstated on February 19, 1989. Nowadays major celebrations, attended by Polish State authorities, are held in Warsaw at Pilsudski Square. At noon sharp, a ceremonious change of guards takes place in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

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Patriotic gatherings and parades are held all over Poland.

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Parades in Katowice and Gdańsk / Photo: Lestat, Starscream

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Learning historical songs at Cracow / Photo: Luxetowiec

Churches celebrate masses with the intentions of the Homeland. Since 1989 every year thousands of volunteers in many cities take part in the Race of Independence to commemorate the day.

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Race of Independence / www.festiwalbiegowy.pl

Unfortunately, for a few years the most important national holiday disintegrates the Polish society instead of uniting it. Since 2009, Polish nationalists (growing up in numbers) organize on this day in Warsaw “Marches of Independence”. This is due to the fact that up to 2015 the right-wing political circles believed that Poland was not yet a fully independent country (they blamed the European Union as well as the Germans and Russians for that). As in 2015 both presidential and parliamentary elections were won by anti-EU party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, the “March of Independence” is going to turn ito a highly nationalist “March – Poland for Poles”.

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March of Independence, 2015: Poland for Poles, Poles for Poland / Photo: Piotr Drabik

This deep disintegration also originates in the historical past and the deep political differences between main politicians to whom Poland owes obtaining independence in 1918: a socialist Jozef Pilsudski and Roman Dmowski, the patron of Polish nationalism (also connected with anti-Semitic attitude).

To reconcile profound differences in the Polish society former president Bronislaw Komorowski initiated in 2012 the march “Together for the Independent [Poland]” during which political activists of various parties who contributed to the independence of Poland were honoured by bunches of flowers put on their monuments.

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“Together for the Independent [Poland]”, 2013

In 2015 the current president Andrzej Duda resigned from this formula.

Independence Day 2016

Rather than unite the nation, November 11 once again will shows a deep split Polish society 13 marches will pass the streets of Warsaw in 2016. Thre most important:

– antifascist march under the slogan “For our freedom and yours”

– march of KOD (CODE  = Committee for the Defence of Democracy) under the slogan “Independence CODE”  (text read by lector is a preamble of Polish constitution)

– nationalist Independence march under the slogan “Poland bastion of Europe”.

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photo: Wikimedia Commons,  www.sejm.gov.pl

Published: June 10th, 2012 / last update: November 6th, 2016

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