What is Dyngus Day?
Historically a Polish-American tradition, Dyngus Day celebrates the end of the often 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. There are many stories that attempt to explain the origins of the day. Many Polish customs date back to pre-Christian, Slavic practices. The custom of pouring water is an ancient spring rite of cleansing, purification, and fertility. The same is true of the complimentary practice of switching with pussy willow branches. Since 966 A.D., Dyngus Day has been associated with the baptism of Prince Mieszko I. Tradition states that Prince Mieszko I along with his court were baptized on Easter Monday. Thus, Dyngus Day and its rites of sprinkling with water have become a folk celebration in 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 customary to throw water and hit the girls on their legs with twigs or pussywillows. 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.
Where We Celebrate
Buffalo, NY is officially the Dyngus Day capitol of America, hosting the largest concentration of festival locations, polka bands and Polish traditions in the nation. Smaller festivals can be found in communities with sizable Polish American populations such as: South Bend, IN, Elizabeth, NJ and Bristol, CT. This year, with the marketing support of Dyngus Day USA, Chicago, IL., Cleveland, OH. and Pittsburgh, PA. will all see significant growth in the number of people and places celebrating this quirky event. Ironically, it’s not widely observed in Poland. But we’re working
Pussywillows or Water?
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 pussywillows. On Easter Tuesday, the women would return the favor. At modern Dyngus Day parties it is common practice that both men and women trade water and pussywillow equally.
Pussy willows play a major part in Buffalo’s 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.