Dyngus Day (Volunteer Appreciation) 2016

Dyngus Day goes back to an old Polish Easter custom. Also, Polish Museum volunteers will be rewarded for their service over the last year. Festivities will begin at 5 pm on Monday, March 28, 2016.

The following article was contributed to Nowy Wiarus by Polish Museum volunteer Dan Schyma of Minneapolis, MN:

JAJKA I DYNGUS DZIEN’

Dyngus Day is the name for Easter Monday. One theory is that Dyngus originated back in 966 AD when Duke Mieszko I was baptized and Poland was founded as a Christian nation. Dyngus and S’migus were twin pagan gods; Dyngus representing water and the earth and S’migus representing thunder and lightning and the whooshing sound it made. The custom of pouring water was an ancient spring rite of cleansing, purification, and fertility. Some claim it is from an early tradition when Christians were immersed in water for Baptism. Early on the two were differentiated: Dyngus being the exchange of gifts, usually decorated eggs, under the threat of water splashing if no eggs were prepared, while S’migus referred to the striking which became the switching with pussy willows as an aspect of ritual courting. Some suggested the striking tradition comes from the ritual “slap” of a Christian Confirmation.

The presence of eggs in Easter customs dates back to ancient pagan nature rites celebrating spring. The egg became a symbol of life, seemingly lifeless and breaking through as a young creature. As a symbol of fertility, the egg played a role in various customs and traditions throughout the year. The decorated eggs, called pisanki, served as a gift in the Polish wooing and courtship process. Pisanki was a decorated egg style where wax was applied in patterns with a stylus before they were placed in colored dyes. Many of the patterns are unique to the region of Poland they represent. Other styles known as oklejane and nalepianki were when the outside of the egg was decorated with a variety of materials such as colored paper or straw.

Dyngus would begin in the early morning when the boys crept through a window or were let into the house by the girl’s father or mother, and the girls were awakened by being liberally doused with water. The girls would be shrieking and hollering, but in their hearts they were glad because they would know that the ones who hadn’t gotten wet would not be married that year. In some villages the merriment would continue with water being thrown from second-floor windows and the legs of the young girls being switched with pussy willows throughout the day. Those who saw themselves as too refined and above pouring water on a friend or loved one would sprinkle cologne on their hands from a small flask instead. In other places the lashing took place with branches of birch, gooseberry or juniper until the girls cried out for mercy, at which time they had to buy their way out by offering to give the boys colored eggs as a way to get them to stop. This gave meaning to the translation of dyngus as “ransom”. Easter Tuesday was the day when the girls would retaliate just as fiercely by dousing the boys with water and go around switching the boys with pussy willows. They too often received pisanki in return.

An interesting Polish legend about how the pussy willow got its name is that long ago some baby kittens fell into a river while chasing butterflies. The mother cat sadly cried at the river’s edge, pleading for help for her drowning kittens. The willows heard her cries and swept their long graceful branches into the water. The kittens grabbed the branches and held on tightly until they were saved.

Some form of Dyngus has been practiced in countries like Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, as well as Poland, to an extent even today. In the U.S., many parties began about mid-morning with a large buffet of Polish Easter foods; kielbasa, ham, fresh breads and eggs. Buffalo, New York is the Dyngus Capital of America. In 2012, it was reported that more than 50,000 attended Dyngus Day events. Other cities with large Dyngus Day celebrations include, Cleveland, Chicago, Hamtramek, Michigan, South Bend, Indiana and Hanover, New Hampshire, and of course Winona, Minnesota.

Dan Schyma