Polish Śmigus-Dyngus Day Celebrations

Śmigus-Dyngus Day is good-natured fun on Easter Monday in Poland

Śmigus-Dyngus Water Dousing
© Alex Ridgway

In Poland, Easter Monday is known as Wet Easter Monday or Lany Poniedzialek and is celebrated as Śmigus-Dyngus Day (SHMEE-gooss DIN-gooss) when boys try to drench girls (or anyone, for that matter) with buckets of water, squirt guns, whatever's available.

In some towns, they use twigs to switch the girls. The tradition has it if a girl receives a drenching or switching, she will marry within the year.

We imagine, over the years, more than one young lady with marriage on her mind has allowed herself to be caught!

The History of Śmigus-Dyngus

This somewhat bizarre practice has at its core the pagan spring rite of pouring water and switching oneself with willows as a means of cleansing, purification, and making things right with dingen -- the god of nature.

Some say it can be traced to Old Jerusalem (or Rome as some scholars say) after the death of Jesus when people poured buckets of water from roofs and open windows to disperse his disciples gathering in the streets. 

Others say it also commemorates Poland's conversion to Christianity and the baptism of Prince Mieszko in 966 A.D.

Original Celebrations

Actually, śmigus-dyngus is a combination of two separate customs. Originally, chodzenie po dyngusie or dyngowanie meant house-to-house post-Easter visits by revelers who expected money or a treat or else the householders would get drenched with water.

Sounds a lot like Easter trick-or-treating, doesn't it?

The custom of boys drenching girls was a separate practice. The girls also had their legs switched with willow branches and the verb śmigać (to whip, lash or thrash) gave its name to this part of the custom.

This folk custom was practiced in the country manors and among city folks a little differently -- they would sprinkle their sweethearts with a little cologne-scented water.

Unlike most folk customs which tend recede in face of urbanization, śmigus-dyngus continues to be widely practiced in today’s Poland in cities and rural areas alike. In fact, major cities are now the scenes of free-for-all water fights between bucket-wielding groups of youths as well as all-out attacks on anyone in sight. 

Still Popular in Poland Today

Śmigus-Dyngus celebrations are still held in modern-day Poland in cities and rural areas alike. In fact, the main market squares of major cities like Kraków and Warsaw are now the sites of free-for-all water fights between bucket-wielding groups of youths but, beware, anyone is fair game! 

American Śmigus-Dyngus Celebrations

The soaking tradition is kept alive in many American towns, most notably Buffalo, N.Y., where a festival is built around it. And not only are females on the receiving end, turnabout is fair play with everybody dousing everybody else!

If getting soaked to the skin isn't your idea of fun, try celebrating with a Śmigus-Dyngus casserole. This dish of decidedly American origin is made with leftover kiełbasa and sauerkraut from Easter dinner.

But don't wait until next Śmigus-Dyngus day to try it. This casserole makes a great fast dinner and potluck dish any time of the year.