The readers who are smiling at my subject line are of Polish descent – or they live in a city that has a big Polish population. To my confused readers, let me explain – Dyngus Day (called Śmigus-dyngus in Polish) is a unique Polish tradition celebrated on Easter Monday. On this day, boys get up early, sneak into girls’ houses, and douse them with a bucket of water. Seriously! The holiday is complicated, and like most holidays that combine pagan and Christian traditions, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But it is a great excuse to party!
Dyngus Day is a blend of both pagan and Catholic customs that has evolved through the ages to become a fun day of celebration after the hardships of Lent. The pagan practice of the pouring of water was once a fertility rite and a symbol of purification. But the pouring of water also has the Catholic connotation of purification through baptism. It was on Easter Monday in 966 AD that Prince Mieszko I was baptized into the Catholic faith – and Poland became a devout Catholic nation thereafter. The sprinkling of water on this day became a way for Poles to celebrate this event and also celebrate the Easter resurrection of Christ.
However, Dyngus Day relies more heavily on the pagan elements of Polish culture, specifically the fertility element. The idea behind boys splashing the girls indicated that the girls who were doused would get married that year. In fact, after being splashed, the girls would give the boys an Easter egg in return – although some sources say that eggs were given to avoid a soaking. On Easter Tuesday, the girls would get their revenge, or get their chance to flirt depending on how you look at it, by hitting the boys with pussy willows that traditionally bloom during this time of year.
In other words, Dyngus Day is an elaborate courting ritual.
My grandmother, who was born in America to Polish parents, remembered the holiday somewhat differently. All of the essential elements were there, but instead of the courting aspect the day was more like an opportunity to play water pranks on unsuspecting individuals!
So, whether you are trying to woo someone, chase them away, or simply laugh as you completely soak someone, Dyngus Day is a day to celebrate. Maybe you’re celebrating the joy of Easter Week, or that Lent is finally over, or that Spring is here (if you’re lucky enough to have Spring yet where you live), or that you’ve found someone you want to marry. Whatever the reason to celebrate today, it’s everyone’s chance to be Polish! Happy Dyngus Day!
[Written for the 18th Edition of the Carnival of Central & Eastern European Genealogy: Easter and Passover Traditions]