Dyngus (Dingus) Day Is Alive and Well in Buffalo NY
Dyngus Day—A Polish Celebration in Buffalo NY
In many parts of the U.S., Dyngus Day, a Polish holiday celebrated on Easter Monday, is unknown. In fact, despite my Polish heritage, I had never heard of Dyngus Day until I made friends with Irene, a woman from Buffalo, New York whose family enjoyed celebrating this old Polish tradition with the large Polish-American population of Buffalo.
What Is Dyngus Day?
Dyngus Day, also called Wet Monday, was mostly celebrated in Eastern European countries, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia. One of the traditions of Dyngus Day is that boys will waken young girls by splashing water on her. They would also use birch twigs to switch the legs of the girls. This prank was originally a joke that any boys would play on girls; later the focus was more of a courting ritual. Young unmarried girls were wakened when a young man would sneak into her bedroom to douse her with water. Parents of the girl were usually privy to the trick, and most girls were secretly hoping to be the object of this attention.
Another tradition of Dyngus Day is the Smigus, or gently switching legs with birch or pussy willow branches. Originally, boys would use the tips of the branches to switch the legs of girls they liked.
The tradition of throwing water and switching with pussy willows has evolved to be a more generalized prank, and in towns like Buffalo, New York in the U.S. where Dyngus Day is celebrated, anyone is fair game to be the target of a bucket of water or to be switched with pussy willow twigs. It is still somewhat of a courting ritual (remember Mom saying, “he wouldn’t tease you, if he didn’t like you?”) and a fun time for young men and women to flirt with each other. Rumor has it that more than one match has been made during Dyngus Day's fun, food, beer and music!
Smigus Dyngus—What Does It Mean?
According to the Buffalo’s Official Dyngus Day Website, Smigus Dyngus ( shming-oos-ding-oos). Smigus comes from the word “smigac” meaning swish with a cane, leading to the custom of swishing girls lightly with birch or pussy willow branches.
“Dingus” is thought to be from the medieval “dingnus” meaning “worthy, proper or suitable.” Another meaning of the word is “ransom during war.” This led to the custom of the girls giving the boys a decorated Easter Egg to protect themselves from being doused with water.
Video of Dyngus Day Festival in Buffalo, New York
While Easter Monday is no longer a public holiday in most places in the U.S., there are some cities with Polish American populations that observe traditional Easter Monday as Dingus Day. The Polish- American tradition celebrates Dyngus Day as the end of Lent and beginning of the joys of Easter.
Buffalo, New York, my friend’s hometown, has the world’s largest Dingus Day celebration which includes food, songs, polkas and, of course, splashing water and gently switching legs with pussy willow branches. Easter Monday celebrations are a way to celebrate Polish American culture, tradition and heritage.
Dyngus Day—A Day of Practical Jokes in One Family
The websites for Buffalo’s Dyngus Day celebrations focus on food, parades and a little bit of history. My friend Irene told me that in her Polish-American family, Dyngus Day was celebrated like April Fools Day as her brothers played pranks on each other that grew more elaborate each year. The pranks grew from prank phone calls to placing fake orders for goods to be charged to each other into full blown silliness. One year, her older brother ordered a dump truck full of mulch to be delivered to his younger brother’s driveway at 7 am. The driver was told to dump it in front of the garage, don’t bother anyone in the house. The only problem came when the younger brother tried to back out of his garage to go to work only to find his car blocked in by a ton of mulch. Not to be outdone, the younger brother called a local dairy farm and ordered a truckload of “organic” fertilizer to be delivered to his brother’s front lawn…
Dyngus Day in Buffalo—Largest Polish-American Celebration
Dyngus Day in Buffalo has grown to be the largest Polish-American celebration of its kind. It has been compared to a backward Mardi Gras. While Mardi Gras is a last fling celebration before Lent begins, Dyngus Day is the celebration of the end of Lent, the beginning of the courting season and the beginning of spring. I think Polish Americans have discovered a better celebration, as theirs can go on for several days following Easter. Apparently, most celebrants not only consider Easter Monday a holiday, but plan to take off Tuesday off from work, too…
Dyngus Day Poll
Have You Ever Celebrated Dyngus Day?
Everybody's Polish on Dyngus Day!
Well, the saying in Buffalo goes, “Everybody’s Polish on Dyngus Day!” Actually, observance of Dyngus Day has mostly died out in Poland and other Eastern European countries, and it has become an American-Polish celebration. But in Buffalo, New York and a few other cities in the U.S., you can find a day-long party of parades, Polish foods, polka, dancing, and fun.
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