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Fat Thursday gives area Poles another reason to party

Buffalo put Dyngus Day on the map nationally.

Could a boost from Buffalo make the little-known Fat Thursday the next big Polish party of the year?

That was the plan behind an event to celebrate Polish heritage Thursday evening in the Fillmore Ballroom of the Millennium Buffalo Hotel on Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga. And unlike Dyngus Day, Fat Thursday is actually celebrated in Poland.

Fat Thursday marks the last Thursday before the Christian season of Lent. It’s basically the Polish version of the better-known “Fat Tuesday,” or Mardi Gras. Just on a Thursday.

There was Polish beer and liquor for sale, polka music, Polish folk dancing and, of course, the Polish jelly doughnut known as paczki (pronounced punch-key).

Mmmmmm. Paczki.

“In Poland, if you do not eat one paczki on that Thursday, you have bad luck for the next year,” said Joseph Mikolaj Rej, of Depew, who organized the event through his nonprofit United Cultural Society. “There’s huge lines for them in Poland. They eat millions of paczkis.”

Rej, who has been organizing “Polish Happy Hour” events in the area for several years, hoped that more than 1,000 people would attend Thursday’s party.

They included smiling, blonde Patricia Galas, an au pair from Poland working in New Jersey, who learned about it from the United Cultural Society’s Facebook page on the Internet and came here to celebrate. Rej put her to work handing out sparkly red tiaras.

The Fillmore Ballroom resounded with polkas spun by a distinguished deejay, Grammy-nominated polka musician John Gora, and couples took to the dance floor. They yielded briefly to the Harmony Polish Polka Ensemble, dressed in colorful costumes, which performed some traditional “walking polkas.”

Rej said the slogan behind his activities is borrowed from this year’s presidential race – “Let’s make Buffalo Polonia great again.”

One of the goals behind his events is to boost memberships in existing Polish organizations and participation in Polish-themed events in the Buffalo area.

He wants to connect people involved in the Polish community to those who have lost touch with their heritage or never felt a part of it – younger generations and older generations.

“My heritage became my family,” Rej said of what happened after both of his parents died within five months of each other in 2012.

After their deaths, Rej said he focused on using his heritage as part of his efforts to urge younger people to learn more about something that’s not very well known.

“People love to learn and they love to celebrate holidays that involve their culture,” he said. “That has been very evident by the excitement that has been building. It’s events like this which plant seeds to encourage others to get more involved in their culture and our cultural communities.”

Rej plans to follow his Fat Thursday party with another one on Fat Tuesday, also in the Millennium.

“Come back Tuesday,” deejay Gora told the crowd over his microphone. “There will be fresh beer, fresh food, fresh entertainment and fresh prizes.”

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