Na Zdrowie! Thousands of people celebrate Muskegon Polish Festival with dancing, food, beer & more

Ashlyn Macek, 3, and Colton Macek, 9, of the P.R.C.U.A. Malbork Dance Group, perform at the Muskegon Polish Festival on Saturday afternoon.

If it is possible to sum up two days of nonstop dancing, polka music, and pierogi eating during the Muskegon Polish Festival this past weekend, it would probably best be said as: na zdrowie!

The thousands of people who flocked to Hackley Park for the event had much to raise their glasses to this Friday and Saturday, from the 300 volunteers who made sure the ever-growing festival ran smoothly to the festivities’ whirlwind of music, food, dancing, beer, history, traditional costumes, vendors, and more.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Muskegon Polish Festival President Tom Sanocki told us Saturday, as Box On played their polka tunes to a crowd swinging partners around the wooden dance floor. “People really enjoy coming out and experiencing the different heritages in this community.”

Launched three years ago, the festival is a celebration of Polish culture and heritage–and is a way to pass on traditions among individuals of Polish descent, as well as teach those who know little about Poland more about the country, its people and its pastimes.

“The grandmas and grandpas who came over from Poland are passing away,” said Sanocki, whose own grandparents emigrated from Poland to the United States. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to do this; we wanted to bring back the dancing, the costumes, the food.”

Muskegon Polish Festival Treasurer Greg Moss, one of the festival’s founding members, noted that about 10 percent of Muskegon County is of Polish heritage, and he too stressed the importance of celebrating and passing on traditions.

“If we don’t keep this together, who’s going to pass on the heritage?” Moss asked, referring to the festival.

“It’s important to have the next generation exposed to it,” continued Moss, whose mother’s parents were from Poland.

From the large number of children, teenagers, and young families attending the festival, there certainly is no question that heritage is being passed down, from traditional dress to music, dancing and food.

“It’s nonstop dancing,” said Jackie Hilt, who co-chairs the festival’s raffle with Theresa Spars. “I love it–the food, the Polish pottery. We’ve got three kinds of Polish beer.”

In addition to the Polish brews–Tyskie, Warka and Okocim–there was a wide variety of food served  up by That Polish Girl Catering and Varsovia Catering Services, including pierogies, kielbasa, golabki, sauerkraut, kapusta, and more. As with the culinary treats, there was a range of musical acts, including the Polski Chix, the Steve Drziwicki Band, Duane Malinowski, John Stevens’ Doubleshot, the Stan Mrox Jr. Band, and Box On. Festival goers could also purchase Polish flower crowns and shop for pottery imported from Poland by Simply Polish, of Garden City, Michigan.

At three years old, the festival is fairly young–but the community has clearly already rallied around it, including a long list of sponsors and charities with which the event has partnered. This year, the Muskegon Big Reds helped the festival set up, and the event has partnered with such organizations as Catholic Charities West Michigan, Noah Project, and the Salvation Army.

“In the last two years, we’ve given $10,000 to charities, and we want to keep increasing that,” Moss said.

As for next year’s festival, Sanocki said he, the board of directors, and the volunteers expect the event to continue to expand.

“We would like to see it take baby steps. We want it to grow, but we’re not looking to move out of our venue,” he said of Hackley Park. “We love this park.”

Hilt also noted that they will be looking for more volunteers for next year. If you are interested in getting involved, please visit the Muskegon Polish Festival website by clicking here.

[Click on any of the images below to start the photo slideshow.]

Anna Gustafson is the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. You can connect with her by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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