Constitution Day in Poland comes every May 3rd and commemorates the establishment of a democratic constitutional monarchy in Poland in 1791.
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Though only briefly remaining in force, it is considered to be the 2nd-oldest constitution of its type, only the U.S. Constitution outdating it by a couple of years. The calendar period between Labour Day on May 1st and Constitution Day forms a three-day, off-work weekend for most Poles. As Lithuania was part of a Polish-Lithuanian union in 1791, modern day Lithuania also observes this holiday.
King Stanislaw Poniatowski of Poland enacted the Constitution of 1791 and forced his deputies to swear allegiance to it, but nonetheless, many of his own subject rose up against it and formed a rebel state known as “the Targowica Confederation.” This group joined with Catherine the Great, Queen of Russia, in attacking Poland and forcing King Stanislaw to retract the new constitution in exchange for a ceasefire. The Second Partition of Poland in 1792 also resulted from the war, and another rebellion in 1794 and a final, Third Partition of Poland in 1795 followed in its train.
Though only in force for one year, the Poles never forgot their May 3rd constitution, which to them, represented all that was good and noble in Polish society. Celebrations of the May 3rd constitution began in the early 1800’s, especially under the French-allied Duchy of Warsaw government, but were banned when Poland lost its independence. Again independent in 1919, Poland made May 3rd a public holiday, but the German and Russian occupation banned Constitution Day once more. In 1945, “between World War II and Communism,” spontaneous celebrations of Constitution Day broke out in Poland, but they were again stifled during the days of the Soviet-backed regime. Finally, in 1990, after the fall of Communism, Constitution Day again was freely celebrated in Poland as a national holiday.
Should you visit Poland on Constitution Day, some activities you may want to put on your itinerary include:
- Attend any of the numerous parades held in most Polish cities, especially the military parade in Warsaw. There will also be historical and cultural exhibits, concerts, political speeches, flying of the Polish flag, cannon salutes, reading of the preamble of the 1791 Constitution, and singing of patriotic songs. You can also expect a special mass at Saint John’s Archcathedral in Warsaw and a presidential awards ceremony that covers various aspects of cultural endeavour.
- Visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw’s Pilsudski Square, which is dedicated to all those who ever gave their lives in the defence of Polish freedom. This and many similar monuments were set up after World War I, but the Warsaw monument is easily the most famous.
- Tour the Museum of Warsaw, in Warsaw’s Old Town Marketplace. It has a very interesting historical collection on the city, including in the areas of archaeology, art, coins, and architecture. It has nine branches and over a quarter-million artefacts. Once it opens in 2018, be sure to visit the planned Museum of Polish History, also to be located in Warsaw.
Visiting Poland for May 3rd Constitution Day will acquaint you with one of the most cherished achievements of the Polish people and give you a taste of their patriotic fervour.