Let’s face it – if you were a child of Polish descent who was raised in Western New York, you may have grown up thinking you owned the Easter holiday. For many Polish folks, Easter is the holiday you look forward to as much as, if not more than, Christmas.
As a child, I truly believed that the traditions specific to Western New Yorkers of Polish heritage were celebrated by everyone at Easter. I thought everybody celebrated Easter the same way we did, and any indication otherwise seemed strange and unfamiliar.
I am a Polish girl, through and through. I am a card-carrying member of the Polish Girls Club. We look amazing in red. We sunburn easily. We have worn a crown of flowers in our hair. We have all, at one point or another in our lives, resided in Cheektowaga or on the East Side of Buffalo.
And being told we resemble the girls who work at the gift shops or bakeries inside the Broadway Market is a compliment of the highest order, akin to being compared to the screen sirens of yesteryear. In my world, telling me I look like a Broadway Market employee is pretty much like telling me I remind you of Rita Hayworth or Marilyn Monroe. So it only makes sense that I cherished the Easter traditions of my Polish culture.
As I got older, I started to realize that there are other ways to celebrate Easter and that different people have different traditions. When I would ask a friend what his family was going to eat for Easter dinner, and the list didn’t include kielbasa, I was incredulous. “No kielbasa? Is that even ethical?” If I were to visit a friend’s house and her colored Easter eggs didn’t have little white specks on them from where they were blessed by holy water, I was shocked. “No little smears from the holy water? Isn’t that a requirement?” And I looked upon my friends who were traveling to Orlando for Easter vacation with particular suspicion. “I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to watch the Disney World parade from a cozy brick house in Cheektowaga, not actually go to Disney World itself,” I would think.
Watching an Easter-themed episode of “The Lawrence Welk Show” was a necessity. What would Easter be without Jo Ann Castle pounding out a ragtime version of Peter Cottontail on the piano, complete with tambourine-playing adults dressed as baby chicks dancing in the background?
And of course, another Buffalo Polish Easter prerequisite was a grandmother preparing heaps of Old World delicacies and expecting you to consume them at rapid-fire speed. To me, Easter just wasn’t Easter without a frazzled grandmother demanding, in an Eastern European language, that you eat more.
Now that I am a little older, I have learned that people celebrate the Easter holiday in myriad ways, and I have begun to cherish and revere the traditions of other cultures as well. While I still am passionate about our Buffalo traditions, I realize that Easter is about so much more. Remembering and rejoicing in the sacrifice and resurrection of our savior is what the entire season is about, and there are a variety of ways that people commemorate this awesome gift.
So, while I am rummaging through my closet, deciding if I am going to wear cherry red, candy apple red or fire engine red for Dyngus Day, I will be smiling, knowing that many of you will be celebrating in your own meaningful way.