Long Story Short: Happy Wet Monday!
Illustration by JP Thimot
Happy Dyngus Day
Dyngus Day takes place the day after Easter. It’s like Saint Patrick’s Day for the Polish, with less throwing up. There’s a parade, traditional folk music, and a plant used as a holiday symbol. But what exactly is Dyngus Day anyway? And why is Buffalo the Dyngus Day capitol of the world?
Dyngus Day is a Polish-American holiday coming at the end of Lent (a period of restrictive observance before Easter). Like all Christian holidays, the traditions date back to pre-Christian times. The custom of pouring water is a pagan spring rite of purification and fertility. Traditionally, Polish-American boys sprinkle water onto girls, which is presumably better than in the old country, where they dumped whole buckets on young women they like. Sometimes they just grabbed girls in bed and threw them—bed and all—into the river. Dyngus is short for Śmigus-dyngus, meaning “wet Monday.”
Boys also swat girls with pussy willow branches, which dates back to some forgotten pagan fertility ritual. In Poland, pussy willows used for “spanking” are kept as charms to ward off dangers. Young woman also traditionally threw dishes and crockery at the boys on the Tuesday after Dyngus Day. Today, both the water and pussy willow customs have been retrofitted to Christian beliefs surrounding baptism and the suffering of Jesus. In the modern American version, both men and women squirt each other with squirt guns, and swat with pussy willows. This is Polish flirting. I’m not making this up.
Dyngus Day also celebrates Prince Mieszko’s baptism, which happened—according to tradition—on the day after Easter. He was the first King of Poland to be baptized, thus bringing Christianity to the country.
But why Buffalo?
Well for one thing, the holiday isn’t celebrated in Poland like it is here (just like Saint Patrick’s Day is very different in Ireland). Maybe you’ve heard that Buffalo has more Poles than any other city outside of Warsaw Poland. Not true. We don’t even have the greatest concentration in the US. That would be Chicago. Or maybe New York (they battle over the title). Buffalo is, like, seventh. But we do have the biggest Dyngus Day celebration in the world. We have the most festival locations and polka bands, and we have a parade in Buffalo’s Historic Polonia District, so take that Chicago. The festivities start at noon, and continue in numerous churches, tents, restaurants, the Broadway Market, and other venues into the night. You can learn even more about the holiday and Buffalo’s celebration here. And if you’re reading this anytime on Monday, you can still get in on the fun.
Buffalo’s Dyngus Day is one more source of pride in a city rich with diverse cultural traditions, all of which emerged from what were—at one time or another—immigrant communities. This is one of Buffalo’s strengths. Now go eat some kielbasa.
The definition of irony
There’s a website called Only in Your State, which sends out daily targeted blogs with items of interest for many cities, including Buffalo. As on many websites, occasionally the local tips and articles are not up to date. One recent article was titled 8 Iconic Buffalo Streets You Must Stroll At Least Once. Number six was Elmwood Avenue, about which the blog had to say: “If you're looking for a quieter pace, head to Elmwood Avenue. This Buffalo neighborhood is known for its shops, coffee spots, and restaurants, but it's also great for window shopping while you walk. The houses along Elmwood Avenue are interesting in and of themselves, with plenty of color and character to enjoy.” The picture that went with the article was four of those colorful houses. They are the houses closest to Forest Avenue, which have recently been demolished by Chason Affinity to build a forty-unit condominium project. So much for color and character.
The Downtown Ballpark
North AmeriCare Park
Dunn Tire Park
The Downtown Ballpark
North AmeriCare Park
Dunn Tire Park
Okay, we get it. Sometime in the past, cities realized that they could monetize public facilities by selling naming rights. But for crying-out-loud, our downtown baseball field is without a name again, now that Coca-Cola will not be renewing its deal with the city. This is getting silly. How do you expect us to form nostalgic feelings for a ballpark without a permanent name? What if Thomas Ricketts changed Wrigley Field to Incapital Park? How would that go over? Back when they built Fenway Park, it was named after the neighborhood in which it was built. But imagine what Boston could make by renaming it Taco Bell Field! And Yankee Stadium cost $2.3 billion-dollars (a billion and a half from taxpayers). I bet they could earn back a good chunk of that by renaming it Facebook Park. Or maybe Schwing Field (a real company that actually makes for a clever baseball stadium name). So, come on, Buffalo, pick a name and stick with it. Maybe you could find some airline that would pay to rename it Pilot Field, which is what most people call it anyway. Please, just don’t name it Griffin Park.
Oh, what a night
Two important events took place last Thursday night in different parts of the city. One was a forum for voicing dissatisfaction, especially among residents of underserved neighborhoods, many in Buffalo’s East Side. The other was a celebration of an artistic triumph that took place within an East Side neighborhood. Both packed their respective houses. Both matter.
The Central Library was the site of the first annual State of OUR CITY address, organized by Open Buffalo, and billed as the people’s version of conditions in Buffalo. It was an opportunity for organized groups and individuals to speak about issues impacting the underserved, disenfranchised, and marginalized, who represent a large chunk of Buffalo’s population. A large cross-section of the city was on hand, so many, in fact, that the library asked some to step outside due to fire code limitations.
Each speaker had three minutes, and people respected those limits, while the audience respected the speakers, a level of civility not always enjoyed at public events. The well-organized evening was divided into four parts: housing, policing, education, and transit, followed by public comments. Many of the speakers began with a series of declarations about the kind of city they want to live in, starting with the phrase “In our city…”
Many speakers referenced developers who displace the poor to create upscale spaces for the affluent. “Who thought of a place where the poor are too poor to be poor?” asked one speaker (a poet) rhetorically. Two more villains were the federal government, which is “trying to terrorize our immigrants,” and Buffalo’s city government, for not designating Buffalo a “sanctuary city.” “The Buffalo billion should have been spent on our people, and not on pushing them out,” was another memorable comment (speakers rotated so quickly, and memorable comments were so abundant, it was difficult to keep track of who said what).
For those of us who own cars (about one third of city residents don’t), it was a revelation to hear how bad our local transit service is, and how desperately people depend on it. The stories were often tragic, but the goal of the evening was positive change. There was a stirring performance by the Woman’s Resistance Revival Choir. One of their songs went like this: “Went down to the rich man’s house and I took back what he stole from me. Took it back, took back my dignity, Took it back, took back my humanity.” You couldn’t help feeling this was the start of something important.
Across town the Albright-Knox Art gallery (AKAG) premiered The Freedom Wall, a documentary film about the making of The Freedom Wall mural on the corner of East Ferry Street and Michigan Avenue, which celebrates local and national civil rights leaders. The film was produced by PicSix Creative, and the consensus is that it’s spectacular. Just as spectacular though, was the turnout: a packed audience for both screenings. Buffalo’s East Side, a community that some say has been neglected by the AKAG in the past, was heavily represented. It was a joyous celebration of the best of what our city can be.
You can read the sometimes-rocky story of how the mural got made in Walls and bridges: scaling a cultural divide from Buffalo Spree.
Wouldn’t it be nice if the city of Buffalo acted like the AKAG and listened to the people? It takes courage and humility to do that, but in the end, we would have a stronger city.
Artist and educator Bruce Adams is a longtime contributor to Buffalo Spree.
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