• Polish Independence Day

Once again, Armistice/Remembrance Day on 11 November reminds us of the sacrifice of millions in 1914-18 and in subsequent conflicts.  It is rightly a moment of reflection.  Who, though, is ‘us’?  The date and time – ‘the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’ – are key for the citizens of the UK, the Commonwealth, France, Belgium and the United States (where it’s called Veterans Day).  But it’s interesting to learn that ‘our’ private and ceremonial marking of the anniversary is not universal.

New Zealand, for example, focuses on 25 April, Anzac Day.  Italy commemorates 4 November, Germany marks the second Sunday before Advent, Volkstrauertag.  Holland combines remembrance with celebration: Remembrance Day falls on 4 May, followed by Liberation Day on 5 May (both dates referring to the end of the Second World War). This seems to me to strike the right balance between commemorating the dead and celebrating victory.

For the Poles, the situation is quite different. 11 November is National Independence Day. That was the date when, in 1918, as the Armistice was signed in the railway carriage in Compiègne in France, Poland regained its freedom after 123 years of partition and occupation by Russia, Prussia and Austria. 11 November is therefore a day for solemn celebration (the picture is of bunting in Floriańska St in Kraków), not least because the date was officially removed from the calendar after the Second World War by the communist authorities until the restoration of democratic processes in 1989.  The Poles are fanatical about anniversaries, so the official restoration of the celebrations – and a public holiday – are fully savoured.

There is an added resonance in those countries, including Poland, where 11 November is St Martin’s Day, Martinmas.  This a cause for processions, bonfires, singing and feasting, particularly in the evening and with a roast goose, a time to mark the transition from autumn to winter and the first taste of the year’s new wine.

There is also a pastry that is particular to Martinmas in certain countries. Germany has the Martinshörnchen and Poland – especially the central region around Poznań – has the rogal świętomarciński.  These are horn-shaped croissants enriched with poppy seeds, crushed almonds and icing.  Delicious!

Maybe ‘we’ could learn a thing or two from these other ways of marking anniversaries.  Why not the proper solemnity of ‘the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month’ in the morning and a joyous celebration of more ancient rituals in the evening?  Shall we start tonight?

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