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Reveling in Polish pride; Thousands flock to Polonia for annual post-Lenten festivities featuring a parade, pierogis and plenty of pussy willows

Spectators might wonder how the participants in the annual Dyngus Day parade will top themselves each year, but not to worry.

They manage.

In addition to the Polish Heritage Dancers and the ubiquitous local politicians, this year's festive trek from Corpus Christi Catholic Church on Clark Street to the Central Terminal featured zombies in a cage, a man in a gorilla suit pushing a stuffed baby gorilla in a carriage, and a man in a chicken suit gently whacking spectators with a bunch of pussy willows.

But it was a spray-painted van with the likeness of a butter lamb that caught Liz Smith's eye. The North Buffalo resident jumped at the chance to snap a picture of it.

"Just look at it. It's crazy," Smith exclaimed. "If you did not live in Buffalo, you would not know what that yellow blob is, but for Dyngus Day, you know that's a butter lamb."

The 90-minute parade was just one of the many features of the daylong post-Lenten celebration that took place Monday throughout historic Polonia on the East Side, as well as in Depew and Cheektowaga.

Richard Cieslak of Cheektowaga enjoyed coming back to his old neighborhood to see the parade, have a couple of drinks at Arty's bar and listen to Those Idiots, a local band that was the featured act inside the Central Terminal on Memorial Avenue.

"My grandparents actually lived on this street over by that green house over there. So I grew up here when the train terminal was booming," Cieslak said. "It makes me reminisce [about] how it used to be."

Judy and Bill Hardie of Depew are only part Polish, but have been regular parade spectators for about five years. They attend most of the city's ethnic festivals, including the Italian and Hellenic festivals.

"We appreciate all the culture that the city has to offer," Bill Hardie said.

Before the parade, which began at 5 p.m., and the evening parties slipped into the wee hours, mellower festivities inspired some to start early -- tasting kielbasa, bowling at a restored 1940s-era church hall and watching costumed Polish folk dancers spin their partners.

"After the family weekend, I needed a day of friends," said Jen Delmerico, who came for the noontime sausage contest at the Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle on Fillmore Avenue.

She had never celebrated Dyngus Day before, but the contest sounded like a good way to get to know Polish culture.

"We all took the day off from work so we could eat sausage all morning," said her friend, Jessica Kaiser.

Winners from the contest's commercial and noncommercial divisions -- about four sausage makers entered each category, with an assortment of smoked and fresh versions -- included the Dubel's brand sold in West Seneca at the Southgate Plaza.

Tim Kasprzak, who entered his family recipe after noticing the contest on Facebook, correctly predicted he would win with his family's classic mixture of pork, marjoram and garlic. "Now's the time for us to be recognized," he said with a smile.

The winner in the smoked noncommercial category had a chronicle of sausage-making tradition in a 30-year-old log book. Five brothers, friends and family signed it and adjusted the recipe as they came together to make a holiday supply of about 100 pounds of the seasoned meat.

"We just started this as an excuse to have some beer and bond with the brothers," said Tom Kilijanski, looking pleased as his mother stood by.

The contest's master of ceremonies predicted that soon, more and more Buffalonians will join in celebrating the daytime part of Dyngus Day.

"It's becoming a de facto day off," said Andrew Golebiowski. "I think people are just going to stop going to work on Easter Monday."

A few blocks away, every one of 12 bowling lanes were being used at the Corpus Christi Church's Athletic Club on Sears Street. "We were here early, so what else do you do?" said Lidia Yemchuk, of Buffalo, who drove up from Erie, Pa., with four friends from Gannon University. "You can't get anything like this in Erie."

Their next stops included the parade, Mickie's and the big party at the Central Terminal.

Abdul Althiyab, from Saudia Arabia, said Yemchuk was the second of his friends who had been talking up Buffalo's Dyngus Day parties. "I cannot wait to see the parade," he said.

The Polish festivities began in Buffalo on the Monday after Easter in 1961 as a party for the Chopin Singing Society, a choral group. The club left its East Side home on Kosciuszko Street years ago and has since established its own modern celebration at the Hearthstone Manor banquet hall in Depew.

"We're actually re-evaluating everything this year," said Gary Bienkowski, the vice president, as he stood by the front-door ticket table.

Now that Dyngus Day parties have spread throughout churches and social halls of the "Old Polonia" neighborhood, as well as to the suburbs, the Singing Society's traditional Polish-American partygoers have dispersed.

Next year, the club needs to get the word out that its party endures with a Polish buffet, folk dancers and evening polka.

"We're looking to see where else we can advertise," he said, "to grab the others and show them what we're like."

email: mkearns@buffnews.com and hmcneil@buffnews.com