(I don’t have PhotoShop or I would have done a crappy “Dyngus Day” over Kwanza)
Did you know there is a holiday called Dyngus Day? Were you aware that it involves squirt guns, pussywillow branches and polka music? Did you know people under 95 play in polka bands? Neither did I.
Before I met my boyfriend, the only things I knew about Buffalo, NY was that it snows a lot and it has a long-suffering football team that usually plays games in the snow. What I did not know is that Buffalo is home to the largest Dyngus Day celebration in the country. Dyngus Day is a Polish holiday that falls on the first Monday after Easter and the best way I can think of to describe it is it’s the Polish St. Patrick’s Day. There are several theories to why Dyngus Day is celebrated (symbolizes baptism, transformation of the old pagan beliefs into Christian beliefs, just fun, etc.) but this wikipedia page does it better than I could so I’m going to focus on Buffalo & Dyngus Day.
According to Wikipedia – “Although Dyngus Day was celebrated in traditional Polish neighborhoods of Buffalo dating back to the 1870s, modern Dyngus Day in Buffalo had its start with the Chopin Singing Society. Judge Ann T. Mikoll and her late husband Theodore V. Mikoll held the first party at the Society’s clubrooms in the Buffalo Central Terminal. The Society left the East Side in the 1980s and moved to new clubrooms in nearby Cheektowaga, where the festival attracted a new generation of revelers. In recent years, the focus of Buffalo’s Dyngus Day celebration has returned to the Historic Polonia District in the form of large parties at the Buffalo Central Terminal, St. Stanislaus – Bishop & Martyr Church, the Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle, and at many family-owned Polish taverns. The World’s First Dyngus Day Parade, inaugurated in 2006, makes its way through the Polonia District from the Broadway Market to Buffalo Central Terminal. In 2008, the parade attracted more than 25,000 people.”
So, to break it down, a bunch of people of Polish decent don the colors of the old country and descend on the East Side of Buffalo to drink beer, listen to live polka music, squirt each other with squirt guns, hit each other with pussywillow branches and celebrate their heritage. As someone who belongs to a people who regularly clog the North End of Boston with feasts celebrating various saints and our cultural heritage, I understand this impulse. I just wish we had more beer at our celebrations but we’ve always been known for our food.
I was fortunate enough to attend Dyngus Day with a group of wonderful, fun, happy Polish-Americans and I thank them for putting up with me. Two of them were awesome enough to give me a Polish t-shirt so I would have something to wear in what turned out to be a sea of people wearing red and white. When we first arrived at the Library, I was disoriented. All the cultural celebrations I usually attend involve my own culture, meaning there are foods, music and traditions that I recognize and that help me feel grounded. This was different as there were foods and beers I couldn’t pronounce the names of, music I’ve never heard, and that pussywillow/squirt gun thing going on that I still haven’t figured out the meaning of. My disorientation only lasted a few moments as the jovial atmosphere was contagious. One of the most wonderful things about Dyngus Day was the age range of the celebrants. From young kids all the way up to seniors, everyone in the crowd was there to have a great time.
Groups of people migrate from bar/hall to bar/hall throughout the night on Dyngus Day. We, however, decided that we were having a great time at the Library and decided to stay put. Throughout the night the crowd fluctuated, waves of people would appear and disappear, the buffet was filled and emptied in perfect four four time.
People come to talk to you on Dyngus Day. Waiting in line in the bathroom one woman who had never met another commented on how nice the second woman’s hair looked. High fives are exchanged as you make your way through the crowds. Men toast with unpronounceble beers. At the end of the night, we took cabs home.
When I arrived back at my boyfriend’s parents’ house, I thought I was just buzzed from the 3 large beers I had consumed. That was until I laid down on the bed and found the room spinning in a clockwise motion. Something else I didn’t realize – those Polish beers probably have a higher alcohol content than the beers I usually drink. I’ll have to remember that for next year.