Smigus-Dyngus, also known as Dyngus Day or Wet Monday, is the most fun celebration in the Polish calendar, falling annually on the first Monday after Easter.
It’s Easter Sunday. You’ve had your holiday breakfast with the family and have spent the day with your loved ones. You know that it’s only a few hours until you all turn against each other. So, you prepare. You sneak around the house. You fill up a used-up bottle of a window washer with clean water and check if the pump works well, all because you can’t find the squirt gunsyou bought. You are very careful that no one notices you. You take the bottle with you to bed and hide it so it’s both out of sight and in your reach.
Tomorrow is Easter Monday: your day off, if you’re lucky. You set the alarm so you’re sure to be the first one to get up. And you do. You open your eyes and your heart stops. You reach for the bottle you hid under your bed, being careful not to make a sound. It’s there. You grab it.
You get up. The door opens. Someone’s in your room but you still can’t see straight. Your heart starts racing but before you can point and squirt, you feel water pouring down your face and you know you’ve just lost. Smigus Dyngus!
Smigus-Dyngus or Dyngus Day is a celebration that falls on the first Monday after Easter. It takes place in Poland, but there are customs similar to it in Czech Republic, Slovakia, Ukraine and Hungary.
Smigus-Dyngus is often also called ‘’Lany Poniedzialek’’ or ‘’Wet Monday’’ because of the tradition that falls on his day: to be the first that wets, in any way, the other person they come in touch with that day. This celebration is especially appealing to children, as you can get creative with the amount of water you use on other people, as well as the tools you use: from spray bottles, through squirt guns and to even big buckets of water. Also, be sure that nobody is safe, and if you decide to go out on the streets that day, be very careful as you could easily end up wet from head to toes. If you do so, don’t complain – after all, it’s Dyngus Day!
Of course, this way of ‘’game play’’ is how many Polish people do it now. Celebrating Polish tradition of this kind takes back hundreds of years, and sources link to different origins of the custom.
Some say it merges two pagan festivals celebrating two different gods: one of water and the other of thunder, as well as marking the beginning of spring. Some trace it back to the times when prince Mieszko I received his first Christian baptism in 966 ad, on a Holy Saturday, marking the beginning of Christianity in the country. In practice, during the late middle ages and on, celebrating Smigus-Dyngus took the form of a festival: in some villages, a group of men in costumes made of woven straw, called smigus forefathers , would go from door to door and either spank or throw water on people, then process through the village. You could avoid this if you gave the forefathers small gifts (usually food) – something similar to Halloween, but still not quite like it. The event would end with a feast for everyone. This celebration in this form is still active in some places.
The most known, traditional polish form, however, was that where men would hit the girls with pussy willow and then spray water on girls they liked – hence the word ‘’smigus’’, as it means ‘’to swish with a cane’’, as you had to be very fast to do so, because the girls would normally run away from it. The girl that gets sprayed with water the most is said to have the best chances at getting married as is deemed to be the most popular. Traditionally, the girls could have their equal revenge on the following Tuesday, and spray the boys back, but since it’s a regular working day in Poland, this tradition has merged the two objectives and now represents a competition between individuals.
The Polish American community in the United States also celebrates Smigus-Dyngus: the biggest is in Buffalo, New York with celebrations also being help in Chicago, Illinois, South Bend, Indiana. The celebration is the time to have a feast of Polish food, dance, traditional outfits and polka music. If you have never been to one, be sure to check out the next year’s celebration!