May all your Witzels be bright

I attended the inaugural Polish Festival event held at St. Joseph’s Church in Poughkeepsie in 2013. I think that it can safely be said that it was definitely a big hit. You may have seen some of the road side signs and thought “gee, I didn’t know that Poughkeepsie had a Polish Festival” and perhaps, like me, you didn’t know what to expect. What I found was a lively atmosphere that had an energy that comes from success. They did experience some minor issues, because clearly, no one anticipated the huge turn out that the event attracted. Yet, everyone was happy.  Traditional music played as long married couples danced familiar and traditional dances. People caught up with friends they hadn’t seen in a while and enjoyed the company of others who shared their heritage. There were games for children, craft displays and ladies in regional costumes. They also had a tag sale/flea market/craft display area. It caught my attention and I wandered over to view the goods. I wasn’t really interested in bringing home any tchochkes but there was something that seemed oddly familiar. Was it the atmosphere or the items on the tables? It was as if I’d had this experience once before and in a moment of international déjà’vu, I realized that I had. More than two decades earlier I had visited Germany for the first time. My host decided that we should visit The Polish Flea Market. It may have had an actual name, but that’s how the locals referred to the market, so that’s how I still refer to it. At the time, I didn’t realize the historical significance of being able to go to the Polish Flea Market. We crossed the border from Germany and truth be told, I can’t even remember what town I was in or where the Polish Flea Market was actually held but looking at the tables here in Poughkeepsie was like taking a step back in time. Poland was and still is a young country with an old and noble history. Despite being targeted for “termination” by the Nazi regime, the Poles assisted the allies, helping to achieve an Allied victory. After almost 45 years the country emerged from Communism in the 1980’s to a democracy and created the country that exists today. Today, as with any flea market you scan the tables hoping to find an undiscovered treasure. Perhaps you’ll find something that the previous owner wasn’t wise enough to keep or astute enough to recognize its value. I believe that some shoppers enjoy the search more than the actual purchase. As I perused the tables I noticed that the items seemed more personal in nature and unlike the plethora of collectibles and used tools and clothing that seem to dominate American flea markets. The condition of the item didn’t seem to matter either. If it was broken and they didn’t fix it, surely someone else would. However, I wanted something unique, something that would remind me of my short visit with the people of Poland. And then, I found it! I’d never seen anything like it before. “It” was made of wood and shaped like a Christmas tree. There were miniature figures depicting the nativity and the animals and the Wise Men. It had a central metal rod that allowed me to twirl the circular platforms. The metal rod appeared to me to be missing a knob but still, it was obviously a “find.” Figuring that I surely could manage to find a replacement knob, I made my deal and left with what I thought was the best souvenir find ever.  I began to refer to my prize as a “Witzel”. The name seemed to fit and Witzel somehow seemed more appropriate than thing-a-ma-bob. I proudly displayed my Witzel for many Christmas seasons but somehow never got around to finding a suitable handle to complete the item. Every year I unpacked it and recounted the story of how I found it at the Polish Flea Market and how wonderful it was. It wasn’t until years later that I asked a co-worker of German decent if she might know what the actual name of my item was. She asked to see my Witzel in hopes of helping me finally learn its true identity.   I brought it to the office where my co-worker laughed and then informed me that the handle wasn’t the only thing missing. It turns out that I had purchased a fairly dilapidated Christmas Pyramid also known as a Weihnachtspyramide. It’s a multi tiered miniature carousel that spins carved figures, usually depicting the Nativity. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just a “handle” that was missing but also the propeller that turns the carved figurines like a carousel. In addition, it was also missing the means to deliver the power source of the wind beneath those missing Polish wings.  The candleholders which supplied the heat to spin the tiers were absent, as well, which roughly translated to: batteries not included! At first I was annoyed for buying something so broken down that it wasn’t able to be used as originally intended. Then I realized that I had enjoyed this treasure for many years without expecting it to do anything but sit beside my tree and remind me of that long ago visit to a Polish Flea Market. As always, I plan to display it at home this year as I have done for the previous 20 plus holiday seasons. I’ll also remember both the Polish Flea Market and the Flea Market at our local Polish Festival. I hope that you get to attend next year’s Polish Festival where perhaps you can find your own Witzel.  Lastly, I wish that you too will find joy in your traditions. May your days be merry and all your Witzels be bright.



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