To many celebrants today is Easter Monday, but to those who are Polish or of Polish descent, it’s also a fun mini holiday that we know as Dyngus Day. In Poland and other Slavic countries including the Czech Republic, the traditional Dyngus Day or lany poniedziałek (“wet Monday”) is actually celebrated over both Monday and Tuesday, but in most of the American variations, this has been shortened to just a single day.
The basic idea behind the holiday is that young men will ambush the girls that they have crushes on with buckets, squirt guns, or garden hoses, soaking them as a sign of devotion. The wetting or dunking of a beautiful girl is held in superstition to ensure a bountiful Spring harvest, being metaphorically symbolic of the hydrating April rains. After she’s been drenched, the boy will then gently lash the object of his affection with a pussy willow switch, and as a form of payback, the girl may then choose to do the same.
The traditional way to avoid being soaked is to make an attempt at bribing your would-be squirt gun assailant with Easter left-overs, shots of flavored whiskey or brandy, or painted eggs, which some customs suggest are symbolic of fertility and will ensure a healthy crop. In the US these conventions are often upheld, with the added bonus of parades and other festivities. Amongst many Polish-American communities, the holiday has evolved into a celebration of Polish heritage, as well as a youth courting ritual.
No matter where you go for a Dyngus Day celebration, you’re bound to see young women in Polish national dress, which varies based on region but will generally consist of a white blouse, full skirt, and some type of hair ornamentation. Unmarried ladies can wear a crown of braids, sometimes laced with ribbons, or a cluster or wreath of bright colored flowers. Beaded necklaces are also very popular, as are other floral accessories, primarily in red. Jewelry of any type showing red gems or stones is common as well, as red and white are the colors of the Polish flag.
There’s a saying that we have here in Buffalo, NY (where one of the nation’s largest Dyngus Day festivals is held) and it pretty much sums up the spirit of celebration. Whether you’re actually of Polish descent or not, it might go without saying but, in the spirit of good food, good friends, and a little romantic teasing,”everybody is Polish on Dyngus Day.”