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Dyngus Day Parade makes a dry splash Polonia does itself up proud with inaugural event here

It was far too cold Monday to be throwing actual water at women, so the colorfully costumed participants in Buffalo's first Dyngus Day Parade came up with a drier alternative: buckets of shiny blue and silver streamers.

That kind of improvisation lent an air of the eclectic to the affair.

Sure, pussy willows abounded, along with other water images associated with the Monday after Easter celebration. But the parade -- which snaked from the Broadway Market over to Fillmore Avenue and up Paderewski Drive to the old Central Terminal -- also took a few left turns toward the untraditional.

Parade entries included a mini-antique car show, complete with an early 1960s pink Chrysler convertible with a modified horn blaring "La Cucaracha," and a three-man band playing the Beatles' "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da." And in a bow to Mardi Gras, holiday revelers on floats and in cars threw candy and red and white beads to curbside spectators.

It was all part of the magic of Dyngus Day, at least according to one who knows.

Andrze Ogiba of East Amherst is a native of Mielec, Poland. There, he said, the ancient custom of men dousing women and women whacking men with pussy willows is still practiced.

"Oh, absolutely," he said. "In Poland, Dyngus Day is called the Dyngus Smingus. Smingus is chasing with the pussy willows. Dyngus is getting wet."

It's a tradition that dates back to 10th century and the Christian baptism of Polish Prince Mieszko I.

Ogiba was outfitted for the parade in a traditional costume worn by the men in the mountainous Patry region of Poland. He said the specific Dyngus Day customs vary from region to region, and change over time. Those differences would naturally be reflected in American celebrations of the holiday.

"We're trying to put everything together and celebrate as one big Polonia," he said.

The idea of "one big Polonia" was sort of a theme for Monday's event, centralizing the disparate celebrations into one general location on Buffalo's far East Side.

"Community is bringing the unity, and that's what it's all about here," said Sister Mary Johnice, who also took part in the parade.

"This is what the East Side used to be," Sister Johnice said. "I've been a child of the East Side from the beginning of time, 1946, and I've seen the East Side grow and grow and grow, but somehow we lost the spirit. But again, it's becoming vibrant. It's so good to see this."

The event attracted revelers from across Western New York, including Chris Cooley of North Tonawanda, a professional volunteer at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, who came with her daughter and grandson.

"It's wonderful. Everybody's Irish on St. Patrick's Day and on Dyngus Day, everybody's Polish," Cooley said.

In addition to noontime festivities at the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Service Center on Broadway, Monday's celebration culminated with an after-parade party inside the old Central Terminal, where folks danced to polkas performed by a band called "Those Idiots," imbibed beer and feasted on kielbasa, Polish ham and pierogi.

Even though it was rather cold inside the cavernous, former railroad terminal, Dave Halady of Clarence said he didn't mind.

"We're a hardy bunch," Halady said, "and it's good to see all of Polonia come together."

e-mail: hmcneil@buffnews.com

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