Easter Monday: From Buffalo to Poland, Dyngus Day customs reign strong

Close-up of two white pussy willow buds on branch with green background

Pussy willow branches have long been a part of Easter Monday in Poland. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, APRIL 21: If Easter Sunday is joyous, Easter Monday is ludicrous—replete with pussy willow swatting, water dousing and general chaos! From Buffalo, New York, to South Bend, Indiana, and across the ocean in Poland, Slovakia and Hungary, springtime rituals and audacious flirting are part of this centuries-old tradition, also known as Dyngus Day.

Not all Easter Monday customs are as silly, of course—the White House annually hosts a formal Easter Egg Roll for American children, while citizens of Germany, Australia and Egypt also take their festivities outside for picnics, outdoor sporting events and egg rolls. (Wikipedia has details.)

The origins of Dyngus Day are not fully documented. Some date customs to earlier, pagan centuries—but the story goes that pussy willows got their start in Polish Easter traditions as a substitute for the palms of Palm Sunday, which were unavailable in Poland. After being blessed by a priest, the native pussy willow branches were regarded as protective—as stewards of good fortune and health. By swallowing three pussy willow buds on Palm Sunday, the consumer believed himself to be endowed with good health. On Easter Monday in Poland, boys customarily swatted girls with pussy willow branches, and the girls returned the favor the following day. Today, however, you’re more likely to see boys and girls dousing one another with water on Easter Monday. What used to be a week of relaxing, secular activities during the seven days following Easter Sunday was reduced to one day—Easter Monday—in the 19th century.

President Barack Obama stands with book in his hand, smiling, with First Lady sitting to his left and two daughters sitting on stairs in front, all outdoors

The Obamas prepare to read “Where the Wild Things Are” at the White House Easter Egg Roll, 2011. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

BUFFALO:
HISTORIC DYNGUS PARTY

Polish communities worldwide recognize Dyngus Day, but nowhere is the party bigger than in Buffalo, New York. (Get all the details at DyngusDay.com.) Parades, authentic food and pussy willow branches fill the streets, while nationally renowned polka bands play the day’s accompaniment. What started in the 1960s with a few neighborhoods of Polish-American citizens has now morphed into the Dyngus Day festivities that last an entire week and draw upward of 50,000 attendees. Other notable events take place in Chicago, Cleveland and South Bend, Indiana.

IN THE NEWS:
DIGITAL POLISH ARCHIVES
136TH WHITE HOUSE EGG ROLL

An estimated 30,000 people are expected at this year’s White House Easter Egg Roll, which will be celebrating its 136th year in 2014. (For more, visit WhiteHouse.gov.) In accordance with the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative, the event’s live music, sports, cooking station and egg rolling will be themed: “Hope into Healthy, Swing into Shape.” The event can be watched live here.

Just before the Dyngus Day extravaganza hit Buffalo this year, the University of Buffalo Libraries added two new Polish-themed collections to its digital archives: one on Buffalo’s Polonia history, and another on Polish Peace Posters printed for the World Peace Council, 1948-1978.

Easter Monday is an official holiday in many countries.

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