Celebrating Dyngus Day, a Buffalo, N.Y., Tradition

For more than 40 years, the Monday after Easter has been known as Dyngus Day in Buffalo, N.Y. It's a post-Lent day of dancing, beer, Polish sausages and an odd courting ritual that brings revelers in search of true love.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. For more than 40 years, people in Buffalo, N.Y., have gathered on the Monday after Easter for something they call Dyngus Day. It's a city-sanctioned party so much a part of the culture that it's included as an official holiday in city labor contracts. It's not just the dancing, beer and polish sausages that make Dyngus Day so popular. It's the day's odd courting ritual that brings revelers to Buffalo in search of true love. Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON reporting:

At the VFW hall on Walden Ave., the room is shaken as dozens of couples polka across the dance floor. Women in pastel Easter dresses and men in polyester slacks spin around the floor at such break-neck speed, non-dancers press themselves against the wall for safety. Ed Biogi(ph), known as the bad boy of polka, is headlining.

(Soundbite of polka music)

TEMPLE-RASTON: For 44 years now, the end of Lent has meant one thing for Buffalo, Dyngus Day. It is a citywide party where the Polish community, and anyone else who cares to join in, lets loose after the sacrifices endured for Lent. Ann Mikoll, a former state Supreme Court judge, decided long ago, after a vacation in Poland, that she and her late husband would bring Dyngus Day to Buffalo.

Ms. ANN MIKOLL (Former state Supreme Court judge; Co-Founder, Dyngus Day): The Polish culture is quite colorful and distinguished in its way, so it became an extremely popular event.

TEMPLE-RASTON: There are two Dyngus Day celebrations of any note in the United States, the large one in Buffalo and the other in South Bend, Indiana. In Buffalo, literally thousands of revelers flood the city's community halls and churches to dance, drink Polish beer, and most importantly, find a mate.

Mr. MARTIN VINASH(ph) (Dyngus Day organizer): There's always that chance that you're going to find your love on Dyngus Day.

TEMPLE-RASTON: That's Martin Vinash, who's helped organize the more than 35 halls for Dyngus Day celebrations unfolding in Buffalo. Behind him, men stand against the wall armed with squirt guns, scoping out the crowd. The women in the room hold pussy-willow bows. Everyone is waiting for the first shots to be fired.

Mr. VINASH: But I think a lot of people in their 20s and 30s are looking for mates that might have the same cultural values, the same religious values, come to Dyngus Day, hoping they're going to find that perfect match, because, in modern-day society, it's very hard to meet somebody with like-minded values.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Dyngus Day likely began in Poland, though no one is exactly sure, and no one seems to know where the name came from. The story goes that men carried water from house to house to sprinkle a girl they fancied. The girls hit the boys with pussy-willow branches if they return their affections. A reasonable person could ask how such a ritual could lead to bliss, but here in Buffalo, it seems to work. Just ask Joelle(ph) and Chris Bartlett (ph). They met on Dyngus Day 2004, and they've been married for more than a year.

Mr. CHRIS BARTLETT (Married after Dyngus Day celebration): I always likened it to the middle-school way of hitting on somebody. You like a girl, you go pull her hair, so it's kind of the same thing.

Ms. JOELLE BARTLETT (Married after Dyngus Day celebration): I had noticed, like, across the room that we kept getting squirted from the same direction, and I think I was just feeling a little friendly, so I ended up walking over to Chris and his friend, and I just kind of initiated conversation. I think I said something like, okay, enough with the water.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The rest, as they say, is history. Since boys traditionally do all the sprinkling on Easter Monday, Easter Tuesday girls get their revenge. They get to go door to door and beat and sprinkle their true loves today. For NPR News, I'm Dina Temple-Raston.

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