[intro-text size=”25px”]Buried away on your calendar is a little holiday called Śmigus-Dyngus, taking place annually on the Monday after Easter.[/intro-text]
Originally the day was observed in Poland with a series of absurd rituals in honor of Easter and the end of Lent, but after a heavy influx of Polish immigrants to America, the revelry was imported, toned down a bit, and given the half as silly name of Dyngus Day. Six years running, Cleveland is hosting a massive Dyngus celebration, so if your St. Patty’s hangover has finally worn off, this is another great time to party- Polish-style. This year, I propose we do this Dyngus right and resurrect a few of those retired traditions alongside the new ones. Better bring a towel.
WET MONDAY Each year Cleveland coronates one special local Polish lady with the title of Miss Dyngus. If you can make a pierogi, dance the polka, and know how to fashionably sport a babushka, you’ve got a fighting shot at that Kielbasa Crown and sash. In the past, however, Polish girls got less-than-royal treatment on Śmigus-Dyngus, which translates to “Wet Monday.” The guys would find a girl they fancy and affectionately dump a bucket of water on her head. Girls could retaliate with water and crockery (yes, they threw plates), or offer the boys painted eggs to avoid a drenching. Bring back the splash this year, and when your crush figures out why you drenched them on a cold spring day, they may be smitten by your amorous gesture. And if they’re clearly not into you at that point, just claim it was for ALS.
WIND IN THE WILLOWS Super soaking the object of your affection isn’t the only way to participate in the more romantic side of Dyngus Day. In fact, it used to be much more violent than that. Boys would take pussy willow branches and whip the legs of their love interests, occasionally with no warning, and girls would strike back the next day. In 2016 the tradition has not fallen by the wayside, so bring the pussy willows: equal lashings for all. And when you’re done, don’t throw out the branch. Blessed pussy willows were once considered good luck charms, granting their bearers health and prosperity. Some even claimed they had supernatural abilities, such as preventing lightning strikes. Unfortunately in this case, they do not prevent the sting of a good leg whipping.
I LOVE A PARADE One of the highlights of the modern Dyngus Day is a colorful parade that marches down Detroit Avenue, showcasing beautiful Polish garb, polka, and piwo. If you haven’t tried piwo, you’ll love it. It’s beer. But at the dawn of Dyngus, the parade was a totally different beast. A procession of noisy boys would frolic through town, using a live bird’s squawks to announce their presence. One lucky bro would dress like a bear wearing a bell on his head, trolling for gifts from the townspeople, before he was ceremoniously dunked in a nearby pond. This year, it may be a perfect excuse to hit the streets with your friends and cause a ruckus in the city. If the neighbors don’t reciprocate with food and presents, you can shame them for being culturally insensitive.
EVERYONE’S POLISH In the olden days, songs were sung to accompany many of these wild traditions. As a more poetic departure from the aforementioned holiday abuse, the boys would also take to the rooftops and speak in verse to declare their intentions for the day, while girls would rebut in verse in an attempt to shoo their pursuers. I picture it like a hostile version of Grease, only with more sauerkraut. While it would be quite the change of pace, if you’re not up for conversing in iambic pentameter this holiday, join the revolution and hop on the polka bandwagon. Any seasoned vet will tell you that on Dyngus Day, one polka dance is mandatory, and after a little more piwo, you may actually enjoy the upbeat rhythm of that blaring accordion you usually hate. As they say, “Everyone’s Polish on Dyngus Day!”