And with the harmonic convergence of the Polish and the foolish, this year's celebrations are going bigger and more widespread than ever.
Blame CNN's Anderson Cooper if you'd like. His on-air fit of hysterical giggling while reading a report on the Dyngus Day holiday went viral last year, drawing untold amounts of free publicity for the Easter Monday celebration.
More deserving of credit for the growing popularity, though, are the Dyngus Day organizers in Buffalo, where the small, Old Country, end-of-Lent tradition received its first boost in the 1960s with the help of the local Chopin Singing Society, and then went turbo in the 2000s with parades, parties and fireworks.
This year, New Orleans, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Albany and proud Polish-Americans everywhere will join Buffalo in getting their Dyngus on.
Many might be wearing Dyngus Day shirts shipped directly from the “homeland” – Buffalo's East Side. Christian Dobosiewicz said business was brisk last week at the Dyngus Day booth at the Broadway Market, with a black T-shirt emblazoned with the red outline of a fierce Polish falcon being the best-seller.
“It's a cooler, hipper design,” he said. “It's new this year, and we're starting to run out.”
Many people, especially those from out of town, want to know what a Dyngus is (usually, it's not what they think), and other customers buy the shirts for friends and family in the Buffalo diaspora across the country, he said.
“It's not just a Polish thing anymore; it's turned into a Western New York thing,” said Eddy Dobosiewicz, president of Dyngus Day Buffalo. “And that's why it's spreading throughout the country. America's Polonia has been dying for something to be proud of and to celebrate.”
Exactly what is being celebrated is open to interpretation, but a few things are generally agreed upon: The happy holiday's expression of joy and good spirits reflects the end of the Lenten season and the rebirth that comes with spring; there's bound to be a run on squirt guns at the dollar stores before it's all over; and, as with Mardi Gras, St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo, there are those who like any reason to raise a glass with friends.
It's all part of the tradition.
But a quick survey of shoppers carrying pussy willow branches at the Broadway Market last week indicated the “true meaning of Dyngus Day” is a work in progress. Setting aside those who were using the branches only for bouquets, there was a general uncertainty over who, historically, hits whom with pussy willows on Dyngus Day, and who is squirted with water, and whether it is considered flirting or fighting.
Eddy Dobosiewicz clarified the squirt gun/pussy willow connection.
“In Poland, the boys would splash girls with water, or maybe perfume if they were affluent, to get their attention,” he said. “The girls would chase the boys away – defend themselves – with the pussy willows.”
The modern version translates to sprays from a water pistol and taps on the back of the legs with the pussy willow switches. That said, there are contemporary adaptations.
“In this day and age, [people] go ahead and hit and splash anyone they want,” Dobosiewicz conceded with a laugh.
Some venues may ask partyers armed with squirt guns and Super Soakers to check their weapons at the door, so they don't put a damper on the festivities.
Official Dyngus Day events were set to begin last night with the blessing of the instruments at the Pvt. Leonard Post Jr. Post 6251, Veterans of Foreign Wars, in Cheektowaga.
But the bigger activities begin today.
The annual Dyngus Day Parade, along Broadway to Fillmore Avenue, up Fillmore to Peckham Street and then up Memorial Drive, starts at 5:30 p.m. today.
Credit for the parade goes entirely to the late Russ Pawlak, who also was instrumental in preserving the Central Terminal on the East Side, Dobosiewicz said.
“Russ was hellbent on having this parade,” he said, “and we knew immediately it was going to work, from that first parade when we had, what, two guys named Stanley, their friend Walter and a pickup truck and some kids in costume.”
The 2013 version is expected to draw thousands of onlookers in red and white garb, a multitude of floats and marchers, polka bands and, yes, some kids in costumes.
Then it will be an evening of pale ales, pierogi and polkas as revelers dance the night away to tunes like “Who Stole the Kishka?” (kishka, kiszka or kaszanka is a blood sausage made from pig parts, blood and barley groats, usually wrapped in a casing and not one of the more popular items on the Dyngus Day table.)
Those wanting to join in the celebration can purchase a Pussy Willow Pass to gain free or reduced admission to most of the venues in Historic Polonia on the East Side, Outer Polonia in the eastern suburbs and Black Rock, and to use the Sobieski Shuttle between 4 p.m. and 1 a.m.
For more information, maps and a complete listing of events, go to www.dyngusdaybuffalo.com.