For those of you who fall into a post-Easter slump this Monday (part sugar coma, part basket-hiding fatigue), there’s an antidote to your ennui: Dyngus Day! The day after Easter, people of Slavic backgrounds, especially Polish and Ukrainian, celebrate the holiday by hitting each other with pussy willows and throwing water. Not Polish? No problem! Everybody is Polish on Dyngus Day.
Let’s backtrack a bit. I grew up hearing my Slavic grandma talk about Dyngus Day, but never experienced it myself until I moved to Buffalo, NY. Buffalo throws an enormous Dyngus Day celebration every year; you can also celebrate in Cleveland, Ohio and South Bend, Indiana. If you can’t make it to any of those cities, we have a little guide to throw your own Dyngus Day party and break through those after-Easter blahs.
First of all, Dyngus sounds like an insult from the 1930s, right? But it actually means … the eggs that are owed. Or “ransom.” You guessed it: the origins of the holiday, and the word, are fairly obscure. Suffice to say, Dyngus day originated sometime around the Middle Ages in the western Slav countries. One story claims that the holiday celebrates the baptism of Mieszko I, who unified Poland in the 10th century. By the 20th century, Dyngus Day was celebrated in Polish and Ukrainian immigrant communities worldwide. The largest party is in Buffalo, and the celebration as it exists today began in the 1960s. There are parties across the city, a parade, and as much polka as you can handle (or more, depending on your polka threshold).
Just A Good Old-Fashioned Fertility Festival
There’s a theory that Dyngus Day began as one of those pre-Christian Spring fertility rituals, and when you look at the elements of a traditional Dyngus celebration, it seriously adds up. For the essential part of any Dyngus Day, you must have the following:
- Boys throwing water on girls. The more attractive you are, the more water will be thrown at you.
- Girls paying off the boys to stop. With EGGS. Hey, symbolism.
- Boys also hit girls with pussy willows, so there’s that.
Now, how does this play out in modern times? A free-for-all water fight, basically. Everyone hits everyone with pussy willows. It’s fun! It also sounds 100% like a holiday that Dwight Schrute would celebrate.
I’ve never been anywhere where Easter was a bigger deal than in Buffalo, and the traditional Polish Easter food is a huge part of it. (I feel like Buffalo should capitalize on both that, and also that they are almost indisputably the Mustache Capitol of America).
Obviously, all of these items are still popular the day after Easter. You can expect to find:
- Butter lambs
- Lamb cakes
- Kouign, a ring-shaped filled pastry which isn’t the same as kouign-amann, and isn’t the same as kuchen, and doesn’t seem to exist on the internet … but I’ve already had it twice this Easter season and it’s only Monday morning.
- Kapusta, which is like if sauerkraut grew up and became more than just a garnish.
- Placek AKA Easter Cake AKA begin your spring workout regimen tomorrow
- Golabki, the Polish take on the burrito, which is probably destined to become a low-carb, low-gluten trend because it’s wrapped in cabbage.
- Chalka (yep, obviously related to Challah), a braided bread with eggs in it. It’s pretty.
- This red cabbage thing that I never tried.
Polka? I Don’t Even Know Her
Polka is to music as dad jokes are to jokes, so that heading was appropriate. While I can’t deny that polka music is peppy, and that the musicians are very skilled, I do have to say that it’s not for everyone. I grew up on Irish folk music, and it’s similar in a way: some people love it, others find that it sounds like those children’s albums they put out about, like, why it’s good to brush your teeth. But at least this one day every year, you should be ready to listen to all the accordion music your ears can take. And lest you think it all sounds the same, at least one young Cleveland polka DJ is calling attention to the different forms of polka.
If you really hate Polka, there are also Polish-American rappers – and bonus! This video was filmed in the Ruff Buff on Dyngus Day:
Just like crowds on St. Patrick’s Day are decked out in green, everyone wears red and white on Dyngus Day. And since everyone is Polish on Dyngus Day, it doesn’t matter if those aren’t really your colors.
Shoutout To The Children In Traditional Garb
If red isn’t your color, how about some beautifully embroidered traditional outfits, instead? There’s nothing cuter than a child dressed as one of those Madame Alexander Children Of The World dolls, right?
Take Monday Off. And Maybe Tuesday.
Above all, Dyngus Day is a huge party – so big that festivities take place throughout the day in Buffalo, so you may as well take the day off. It’s also possibly as big a drinking day as St. Patrick’s Day, so maybe you’ll want to take Tuesday off as well. Happy Dyngus Day!