Kids on a three-day weekend now may not know the reason. It’s Casimir Pulaski Day, a holiday honoring a Polish count’s role in American independence.
The day was added to the calendar in the 1980s, in recognition of the heavy Polish population of the Chicago area; more people of Polish descent than anywhere outside Poland, says Jan Lorys, director of the Polish Museum of America, which is in Chicago.
“The Americans, in order to win the Revolutionary War, had to fight in a European manner,” Lorys says, adding George Washington’s experience in the French and Indian War left him in need to help from the likes of Pulaski.
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You should not see this is simply a Chicago thing, he says. “There are so many places named after Pulaski,” says Lorys, pointing out that Little Rock, Ark., is the county seat of Pulaski County, Arkansas. Illinois has a Pulaski County at the southern end of the state.
Lorys says as a former history teacher, he doesn’t mind schools opting to hold class today, so long as they do something to honor Pulaski.
The Illinois State Board of Education does not keep track of how many districts decide to skip the holiday and spend the day in class instead; a spokesman says districts handle this locally.