If you’re wondering what might be the most “Chicago” holiday around, look no further — Pulaski Day is a uniquely Illinois celebration. On the first Monday of March all Chicago public schools, City of Chicago employees, and Cook County workers take the day off and the city hosts a parade to honor Casimir Pulaski.
But who the heck is he?
If his name doesn’t sound familiar you may want to brush up on your American history. Most sources agree Pulaski was born on March 4, 1747 (though the date is disputed). After he helped repel Russian forces during the Polish war for independence, the king of Poland turned against Pulaski and banished him. He moved to Paris where he met Benjamin Franklin and volunteered to help the oppressed American colonies gain freedom.
George Washington went on to convince the Continental Congress to allow Pulaski leadership of the new cavalry regiment, so the Pulaski Legion, with 68 horses and 200 soldiers, became America’s first cavalry. After he proved himself in several key battles, he earned the title of Brigadier General. During the Battle of Savannah in 1779 Pulaski charged into combat and was mortally wounded by cannon fire and died several days later.
So why do we celebrate him?
You may wonder how Pulaski obtained his own observance day in Chicago given the many heroic leaders of the revolution. Why Casimir Pulaski Day and not Paul Revere Day? Well, there’s a simple answer for that: Chicago boasts the world’s second largest Polish population behind Warsaw. In partial recognition of the community, the Illinois state government approved “Pulaski Day” on September 13, 1977.
To add to the festivities, Navy Pier hosts an annual “Celebrate Poland” tribute held on or around Pulaski Day. Admission is free, and entertainment at the party includes various styles of Polish music performed by some of Chicago’s most popular Polish-American entertainers. Vendors are on hand to sell Polish treats; folk art and other gifts are available for purchase as well.
Just can’t get enough Polish fun? Check out Pierogi fest in Whiting Indiana every summer! Summer 2010 dates are July 23-25. It’s simply awesome.