Everything You Should Know About Dyngus Day

Historically a Polish and Polish-American tradition, Dyngus Day celebrates the end of the restrictive observance of lent and the joy of Easter. Over the decades, Dyngus Day has become a wonderful holiday to celebrate Polish-American culture, heritage and traditions.

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here are many stories that attempt to explain the origins of the day. Many Polish customs date back to pre-Christian practices of our Slavic ancestors. The custom of pouring water is an ancient spring rite of cleansing, purification, and fertility. The same is true of the complimentary practice.

Since 966 A.D., Dyngus Day has been associated with the baptism of Prince Mieszko I.

The custom of pouring water is an ancient spring rite of cleansing, purification, and fertility

Tradition states that Prince Mieszko I, along with his court, was baptized on Easter Monday. Thus, Dyngus Day and its rites of sprinkling with water have become a folk celebration of thanksgiving for the fact that the first king of Poland was baptized into Christianity, bringing Catholicism to Poland.

In more modern times, the tradition continued when farm boys in Poland wanted to attract notice from the girls of their choice. It was custom to throw water and hit the girls on their legs with twigs or pussy willows. Cologne was used instead of water by the more gallant lads. The ladies would reciprocate by throwing dishes & crockery and Tuesday was their day of revenge, imitating the same tactics.

According to the „Encyclopedia Staropolska” written in the 19th century by A. Gloger, the word can be traced back to a medieval form of the word „Dingnus,” which means „worthy, proper, or suitable.” Gloger cites a usage of the word, namely „ransom during a war to protect against pillage,” as well as a German usage of „Dingen”, which means „to come to an agreement, evaluate or buy back”.

Dyngus day in America

Although Dyngus Day was always celebrated in traditional Polish neighborhoods dating back to the 1870s, modern Dyngus Day in Buffalo had its start with the Chopin Singing Society in 1961.

Judge Ann T. Mikoll and her late husband Theodore V. Mikoll held the first party at the Society’s clubrooms on Kosciuszko Street in Buffalo’s Eastside. The success of the Dyngus Parties during the 1960s led to other Dyngus dances on the Eastside including those at the Broadway Grill, the Warsaw Inn, and the Polish Singing Circle at the New York Central Terminal.

The Chopin Singing Society left the Eastside in the 1980s and moved out to new clubrooms in Cheektowaga where the festival attracted a new generation. Yet Chopin’s tradition continues with parties taking place at the Hearthstone Manor in Depew, New York.

Buffalo, New York is unofficially the Dyngus Capital of America with the largest concentration of festival locations and live polka music. Smaller festivals can be found in communities with sizable Polish-American populations such as South Bend in Indiana, Chicago in Illinois, Elizabeth in New Jersey, Bristol in Connecticut and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. Celebrations in South Bend kick off the political campaign season in the City.

Hot to celebrate

As the popular polka anthem explains, „Everybody’s Polish on Dyngus Day!” Many parties begin during the mid-morning on the Monday after Easter with a large buffet of traditional Easter foods (kielbasa, ham, fresh breads, and eggs). It is common to hear polka music on Dyngus Day with the mandatory dancing of at least one polka. Many parties continue well into daylight on Tuesday. (A tip to the first-time Dyngus participant: take Tuesday off from work.)

This is a yearly debate among Dyngus Day revelers. The tradition holds true that on Easter Monday boys would sprinkle the girls with water and tap them with pussy willows. On Easter Tuesday, the women would return the favorite. At modern Dyngus Day parties it is common practice that both men and women trade water and pussy willow equally.

Pussy willows play a big part in some Dyngus Day celebrations as men and women flirt with playful „taps.” Branches of the plant are used as the pussy willow is one of the first „budding” plants of spring.

But, how did the pussy willow get its name? According to Polish legend, many springs ago, baby kittens fell into a raging river while chasing butterflies. The mother cat sadly wept at the river’s edge, pleading for help for her drowning kittens. The willows heard her mournful cries and swept their long graceful branches into the water. The kittens grabbed the branches, held on tightly and were safely brought to shore. Every spring, from that day on, the willows sprouted fur-like buds where the tiny kittens once clung.

Love is all around on Dyngus Day and many a couple has been brought together and has found true love by the flirtatious trading of water and pussy willows.

Expect to pay admission fees ranging between $8-$12 for most Dyngus festival hall activities. There is currently no „master pass” for Dyngus Day as each festival hall is autonomous to set prices. Many admission fees help to fund many of the area’s cultural and social organizations.

In some cases, you can save money by purchasing your tickets in advance.