"I had never heard of Dyngus Day till I moved to Buffalo. Now I find myself in the biggest celebration of all."
Now I had to correct the person who laid those words on me last week. Buffalo does not have the biggest Dyngus Day celebration of all. In fact, South Bend, Ind., has. And the guess here is that Buffalo doesn't even have the second biggest, although such matters are not researched.
If it weren't for three people, Buffalo might not have any celebration. Yes, when Judge Ann Mikoll, her late husband, Ted, and her late brother-in-law, Jim, told me about the special day in 1970, things were much different on the Dyngus Day front.
Among other things, the Chopin Singing Society was on Kosciusko Street and didn't charge for lunch, which was a haven for candidates for office in Buffalo. It is now in Cheektowaga, is catered by Polish Villa II and is a haven for Erie County candidates.
The big thing is that in the old days there were so few Dyngus Day hooleys. The Matthew Glab Post, the Depew Polish Falcons and a few outlying stations were the only rivals the Chopin Singing Society had. Now, just about every spot features a Dyngus Day celebration even if the owners of the places know little about the tradition.
When John Marchese of the Corner Bar started a St. Stanislaus Church Dyngus Day seven years ago, he asked for suggestions. And among those he was offered was that his volunteer workers give every newcomer an official explanation of what Dyngus Day is about.
That suggestion went over. And St. Stanislaus is, so far as I know, the only place that gives such a message. One year, I decided to learn about the tradition, but too many explanations were given. After a while, I got sick of students of Polish culture saying things like, "You had that explanation all wrong. Here's the real story." And before long, I got more confused than usual.
Maybe not as confused as the volunteer who incorrectly spelled it "Dingus." Or the person who chose a German word for the big day. Scholars say "dyngus" means "ransom" in German.
When pressed for an explanation of what Easter Monday is all about, a friend says, "Dyngus Day is Sadie Hawkins Day in reverse." Then he hopes no one will ask, "Who is Sadie Hawkins?" For the record, she was a super homely lass who on one day a year had the liberty to chase the lads and marry the poor wretch she caught up with.
All students of Polish lore agree that Lent in Poland was no walk in the park. And on Easter Sunday, the people broke their fasts, but with their family. Easter Monday, Dyngus Day, was the day they howled at the moon.
Last year, we started at the Chopin Singing Society and moved to the Adam Mickiewicz Library and Dramatic Circle, where some of us judged a Polish sausage contest.
In other days, there was usually a trip to the Matthew Glab American Legion Post in Lackawanna, where National Commander Mike Kogutek held forth.
Of course, I will not soon forget the time at the Depew Polish Falcons when I was told that if I wanted to do justice to the flavor of a hard-boiled egg, I should put horse radish on the egg. To this day I am grateful to those good citizens on Columbia Road in Depew.
This time around, another visit to Randolph Hall in Cheektowaga is in order. There, Jackie Schmid and Val Bakowski are staging a two-night Dyngus Day. Actually, they are having the sixth annual pre-Dyngus Day kickoff dance Sunday and the ninth annual Dyngus Day Celebration on Easter Monday.
On Sunday, the music will be provided by Buffalo's own "Scrubby" and the Dynatones and Jerry Darlack and The Touch.
On Monday, the fans will welcome back, "for a one-time reunion in the Buffalo area," Mitch Biskup and The New Brass. Also on the card are "Stephanie, America's Polka Sweetheart, and Her Honky Polka Band."
Last year, a person sampling a kielbasa at Chopin's said, "This is typical of Buffalo. Everyone is moving to the suburbs."
He was hardly heard because of the polka music. Anyway, St. Stan's and Assumption Church still have good celebrations.