Polish for a day

Buffalo community celebrates Dyngus Day

The Spectrum

A typical day on the East Side of Buffalo might be dull and unappealing to the average eye. For 364 days of the year, the Historic Polonia District seems like nothing out of the ordinary.

But the day after Easter, it's a sea of red and white.

On Monday afternoon, the sounds of festive polka music and the smell of kielbasa and pierogi created an atmosphere on the East Side that reminded people of the days when Polonia was the second-largest community of Polish-Americans during the late 19th century.

Festive floats paraded down Fillmore Avenue to Meadow Drive near the Central Terminal, accompanied by parade-goers chanting Polish phrases. Polish dancers twirled in colorfully embroidered costumes.

Elise Roberts, a senior triple major in international studies, political science and Italian, attended the Dyngus Day celebration for the first time with the UB Polish Student Association. Although Roberts isn't Polish, she said on Dyngus Day, "everybody is Polish."

In 1960, the city of Buffalo started celebrating Dyngus Day to help Polish-Americans embrace their Polish identity while living thousands of miles from their homeland.

From 2008-12, 148,537 people made up the Polish population in the Buffalo-Niagara region, according to the American Community Survey done by the Census Bureau.

"Growing up in Buffalo, I've always known about Dyngus Day," Roberts said. "[I've] been really excited to be able to participate in the festivities. Not being Polish, Dyngus Day has always been more about having pride in my city and celebrating what is a uniquely Buffalonian holiday, within the United States, that is."

Buffalo's Dyngus Day celebration has become the largest continuing Dyngus Day event in America - it's even larger than celebrations in Poland.

Dyngus Day originated as a celebration of the baptism into Christianity of the first king of Poland, Prince Mieszko in 966 A.D., according to dyngusday.com. The holiday has an interesting array of traditions. On Easter Monday, boys traditionally poured water on the girls they liked and hit them with pussy willow plants. The following day, the women had their turn to hit the boys. Women also were able to reciprocate the boys' advances by throwing dishes and crockery.

Today, men chase women and squirt them with water and women respond with a quick switch from a pussy willow.

This year, Buffalonians were able to start their Dyngus Day at 10 a.m. and party until 12 a.m.

The day included a Dyngus Day mass at the Corpus Christi Church, Polka music at Arty's in the Historic Polonia District and a kielbasa eating contest at the Broadway Market.

"I love that it is Polish pride and I love the food," said Valerie Storozuck, a Massachusetts native who was attending Dyngus Day for the third time. "It's just a great time."

The annual Dyngus Day Parade started at 5 p.m.

Dyngus Day floats from all across Buffalo lined up in front of Corpus Christi Church on Clark Street through Historic Polonia and ended at the Central Terminal where the party continued.

"I had a great time seeing so many people out and watching the parade; the best part of Buffalo are the people," Roberts said. "And I always love seeing so many people from this great city out and celebrating."

Ashleigh Freiday, a Grand Island native, participated in the parade sporting a red shirt with the words "Betty Crocksi" on it for her friend Dana Szczepaniak's food truck business. Betty Crocksi is the only Polish food truck in Buffalo.

"I'm not Polish," Freiday said. "I come along for the party, have a good time and it's great."

Since its introduction in the '60s to Buffalo, Dyngus Day has become much more than a way for boys and girls to flirt with one another. Buffalonians unite to show their pride in their city and their roots. Nearly every parade-goer donned red and white clothing - the colors of the Polish flag.

Emma Janicki contributed reporting to this story.

email: features@ubspectrum.com