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100 Things: Dyngus Day, a Polish party for Lent's end

Western New York loves its spring flings. Our typically long winter is behind us. A typically beautiful summer is ahead.

And so we go a little crazy. Spring fever has figured in so many of our 100 Things. That first trip your car takes through the car wash, the teeth-chattering excitement of our two St. Patrick's Day parades.

Now we come to the most delirious spring festival of all: Dyngus Day.

How to explain it? Let's try. It's a Polish party on Easter Monday that celebrates the end of Lent. It has roots in ancient Eastern European folk traditions. The guys swat the girls with pussy willows, and the girls soak the guys with water pistols, or is it the other way around?  There's a big parade. Some 50,000 Western New Yorkers, Polish or not, gather in taverns, church halls, and VFW posts to dance the polka, drink Krupnik, and --

10 things to do on Dyngus Day in Buffalo

Hey, what's so funny?

You have to forgive people for giggling, as Anderson Cooper did, famously and uncontrollably, on national TV. It's all so whimsical, so fanciful, so full of that madcap Polish sense of humor.

But actually, Dyngus Day makes sense. You could liken it to Mardi Gras, the last hurrah before Lent descends. Except our party is a better idea, said Eddy Dobosiewicz, the major force behind the festival for the last decade.

"The whole Fat Tuesday thing, you're rewarding yourself before you did anything," Dobosiewicz said. "This is more legit."

Squirt guns are another common sight at Buffalo's Dyngus Day celebration. (Derek Gee/Buffalo News file photo)

Dyngus Day, in Poland, is a small country festival. Decades ago, it was that way in Buffalo, too.

It began in Polonia, the East Side neighborhood surrounding our last 100 Things destination, the Broadway Market. A distinguished judge, Ann Mikoll, spearheaded the first celebrations, held at the Chopin Singing Society in its old location on Kosciuzcko Street. Other parties were held in the halls of nearby, historically Polish churches: St. Stanislaus, Corpus Christi.

Back then it was something that only insiders knew about. That has changed, in large part thanks to Dobosiewicz, the Buffalo comedian/historian.

In the '90s, Dobosiewicz worried that because the Polish were moving to the suburbs, Dyngus Day was dying. He took action.

At first, in 2005, he set up a website publicizing Dyngus Day events. Thousands turned out, and Dobosiewicz, encouraged, came up with the idea of a parade. Others joined the effort, buoyed by a new interest in history and preservation. Now, Buffalo ranks first in the entire world for Dyngus Day. Dyngus Day parties are held in other American burgs, including Cleveland and Chicago. None of them can hold a Tyskie to us.

"I try to hit every single place that participates," said James Lawicki, president of the local division of the Polish-American Congress. "I'm not always successful, but I'll try."

New to Dyngus Day? Dive in. Look around town for the witty brochure advertising the event, and/or check out the website. It will help you plan your day. You can find the brochure at locations including the Broadway Market, where you can also get your pussy willows and red-and-white swag so you look stylish on the big day.

10 things to do on Dyngus Day in Buffalo

Dobosiewicz advises to make sure to catch the parade, which starts at 5 p.m. near the Central Terminal. "It's so unique and grassroots."

Don't get too close, or you could be soaked by water guns. But stand near enough so you can catch some treats.

"I would venture to say there is no other parade on the planet where people throw out kielbasa and butter lambs and loaves of rye bread," Dobosiewicz said, laughing.

Want to supersize your adventure? Arrive early, and immerse yourself in Polish and Catholic culture.

"There are beautiful, historic churches," Dobosiewicz said. "People travel great distances in Europe to see something comparable to them. We have a handful right here. Go to a Mass. Corpus Christi has Mass at 11 a.m.

"There are activities for children. Take them to the Broadway Market. Go to the Corpus Christi Athletic Center, bowl a few games. Maybe do some egg decorating with the kids. Stop at the intersection of Clark and Kent and get your Superman picture taken."

After the parade, parties rage all over the city. A wristband, for sale in advance at Wegmans and other locations, costs $10 and permits $2 admission to many other official venues. It also covers shuttle buses that circle Polonia and connects it with other Dyngus Day hubs.

"You don't have to be Polish to have a good time," said Lawicki, of the Polish-American Congress. "It's a great way to experience the culture in a fun, festive way. I'm amazed when I talk to people who have lived in Buffalo all their lives, and they've never gone to Dyngus Day. Give it a try if you're into having a good time, and I don't know anybody who isn't. If you like to enjoy culture, we're a fun culture. Dyngus Day allows you to wade into the shallow end of the pool. If you want to go in deeper, as time goes on, you can."

Any more advice? Lawicki laughed.

"Wear comfortable shoes and pace yourself," he cautioned. "It's not like running a sprint. It's like running a marathon."



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