What is Dyngus Day?
Dyngus Day, or Wet Monday (Polish Śmigus-Dingus or lany poniedziałek) is the name for Easter Monday. Historically a Polish tradition, Dyngus Day celebrates the end of the 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. In Cleveland specifically, our goal is to not only make this a Polish Cultural festival, we also want to celebrate our Polka Heritage as well as the other Eastern European cultures still thriving in Cleveland.
2015 marks the festival's 5th year anniversary here in Cleveland. Every year we continue to grow and are excited to share this day with you. It is estimated that over 20,000 people celebrated Cleveland Dyngus 2014 in the Detroit Shoreway, Ohio City, and Tremont Neighborhoods, celebrating at over 30 venues.
Going back to Dyngus roots...In Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic traditionally, early in the morning boys awoke girls by pouring a bucket of water on their head and striking them about the legs with long thin twigs or switches made from willow, birch or decorated tree branches.
One theory is that Dingus originates from the baptism on Easter Monday of Mieszko I (Duke of the Polans, c. 935–992) in 966 AD, uniting all of Poland under the banner of Christianity. Dingus and Śmigus were twin pagan gods; the former representing water and the moist earth (Dingus from din gus – thin soup or dingen – nature); and the latter representing thunder and lightning (Śmigus from śmigać or to make a whooshing sound). In this theory, the water tradition is the transformation of the pagan water god into the Christian baptism. The custom of pouring water was an ancient spring rite of cleansing, purification, and fertility. It is alleged that the pagan Poles bickered with nature/Dingus by means of pouring water and switching with willows to make themselves pure and worthy of the coming year. Others have suggested that the striking tradition is the transformation of the ritual "slap" of Christian confirmation. However, still others suggest that the Śmigus tradition is actually simply a youthful recapitulation of a Good Friday Polish tradition, in which parents wake their children with switches from twigs, saying the words of a Lenten prayer "God's wounds" – "Boże rany".
Early, the Dingus custom was clearly differentiated from śmigus: Dingus was the exchange of gifts (usually eggs, often decorated – pisanka pl. pisanki), under the threat of water splashing if one party did not have any eggs ready, while Śmigus referred to the striking. Later the focus shifted to the courting aspect of the ritual, and young unmarried girls were the only acceptable targets. A boy would sneak into the bedroom of the girl he fancied and awaken her by drenching her with multiple buckets of water. Politics played an important role in proceedings, and often the boy would get access to the house only by arrangement with the girl's mother.
Throughout the day, girls would find themselves the victims of drenchings and leg-whippings, and a daughter who was not targeted for such activities was generally considered to be unattractive and unmarryable in this very coupling-oriented environment. Most recently, the tradition has changed to become fully water-focused, and the śmigus part is almost forgotten. It is quite common for girls to attack boys just as fiercely. With much of Poland's population residing in tall apartment buildings, high balconies are favorite hiding places for young people who gleefully empty buckets of water or more recently throw plastic bags or water balloons onto random passers-by.
The world's largest organized Dyngus Day celebration occurs in Buffalo, New York. In Buffalo's eastern suburbs and the city's Historic Polonia District, Dingus Day is celebrated with a high level of enthusiasm. 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 Dingus Day Parade, inaugurated in 2006, makes its way through the Polonia District from the Broadway Market to Buffalo Central Terminal.