Smigus-Dyngus Day Celebration

Smigus-Dyngus Water Dousing

Alex Ridgway/Flickr

Śmigus-Dyngus Day is a Polish tradition observed on Easter Monday or Wet Easter Monday (lany poniedzialek) when boys douse girls with water and switch their legs with pussy willows. It is the traditional celebration at the end of the Easter Lenten season and the dietary restrictions of the season. It has at its core the pagan spring rite of pouring water and switching oneself with willows as a means of cleansing, purification, fertility and making things right with dingen—the god of nature. It also commemorates Poland's conversion to Christianity and the baptism of Prince Mieszko in 966 A.D.

Śmigus refers to the drenching and switching aspect of the holiday, and dyngus refers to the pranks that are played. They were once two separate customs, but at some point in history, they merged into śmigus-dyngus (pronounced SHMEE-gooss DIN-gooss).

Food for Śmigus-Dyngus Day in the U.S.

The ubiquitous śmigus-dyngus casserole is an American addition to the day and a requirement to properly celebrate Polish pride in the U.S. It is made with smoked sausage and sauerkraut—traditionally the leftovers from Easter dinner. You don't have to wait for Easter leftovers, though. The casserole is a great quick meal or potluck dish any time of the year. Usually, the casserole is accompanied by beer.

Other favorite foods on this day include kiełbasa, pierogi, gołąbki (stuffed cabbage), krupni (a Polish honey liqueur), bigos (a Polish stew), and vodka. 

Modern Customs

Although originally the boys doused the girls, In recent years, turnabout is fair play. Girls have taken to soaking and switching boys in retaliation, but usually on the next day—Easter Tuesday. Śmigus-Dyngus celebrations are still popular in Polish cities and rural areas and also is observed in some American communities, most notably Buffalo, N..Y., which holds the largest Śmigus-Dyngus Day celebration in the United States, followed closely by South Bend, Ind., Chicago, Cleveland, and Hamtramck, Mich.—all of which have large Polish-American populations.

U.S. activities in Polish-American communities usually include Śmigus-Dyngus Day parades, polka bands, the wearing of red-and-white clothing, pussy willows, water, Polish food and beer, and the crowning of Miss Dyngus.