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Monday, April 21, 2014

It's Dyngus Day in Buffalo

A Dyngus Day dousing.



Today has the makings of a party: Lent is finally over and it’s supposed to be fine, with temperatures in the 70s. Most of the detritus from the family Easter dinner is cleared away. If I were still in my hometown of Buffalo, NY, I would  go over to the East Side this evening  to watch the eighth annual Dyngus Day Parade.

Dyngus Day is always celebrated on the Monday after Easter. From its local Polish roots, it has expanded in Buffalo to attract thousands of out-of-towners to the historic Polish area of the city. It is the world’s largest Dyngus Day celebration, having grown into a week-long festival of parade, polkas and pierogi.  

Dyngus Day postcard.
This is, ironically, closing the circle with its historic roots. Historically, Easter Sunday touched off a week-long festival celebrating the end of Lent, but the 19th century saw it cut back to a single day, Easter Monday. (Those darn Protestants and their work ethic!)

In the Old Country, boys threw water over girls and spanked them with pussy willows on Easter Monday and girls did the same to boys on Easter Tuesday. When I was growing up, however, Dyngus Day was considered a sort of Polish Sadie Hawkins Day. Since it’s an evolving tradition, I don’t really know what they get up to now.

Dziady śmigustne, Muzeum Etnograficzne w Krakowie. In parts of southeastern Poland, beggers would appear dressed in straw suits. Their faces were hidden behind masks and they would grunt. This was to commemorate the rescue of survivors of a Tatar raid whose tongues were cut off and faces disfigured. For some reason this tradition hasn’t extended to Buffalo.
The pussy willows are a stand-in for the palms of Palm Sunday. Many words have been expended on the meaning of the water-dousing, but here in the far north, Easter Monday or Dyngus Day is very likely to be the first warm holiday of the year. Why not throw water?

Not everyone gets into the spirit of the thing, and periodic attempts have been made to shut it down over the centuries. In 1410 it was forbidden by the Bishop of Poznań in an edict which instructed residents not to "pester or plague others in what is universally called Dingus."

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