Ding, Dong, Dyngus Day

Polish pysanky eggs decorated with symbols of nature's renewal. Happy Wet Monday! Roll out that barrel of Zyviec, set out plates of leftover Easter fare, put some polkas on the turntable, and let the drenching begin!

Easter Monday marks the end of Lent. In Poland, it also represents the beginning of spring. Known as lany poniedziałek (Wet Monday), this day is honored in rural areas with the curious celebration of Śmigus-Dyngus, with śmigus involving the acts of dousing and switching, and dyngus, involving the act of bribing people with colorful pysanky (decorated Easter eggs) to escape from śmigus.

According to Zygmunt Gloger's authoritative Encyklopedia Staropolska (1900-1903), śmigus comes from the word śmigac (to switch with a cane) and dyngus can be traced back to the Medieval German dingnus (worthy, proper or suitable). Gloger cites usage of dyngnus as a "ransom during a war to protect against pillage" and also suggests a borrowed root of German dingen (to come to an agreement, evaluate or buy back).

Sprinkling people with water on Easter Monday morning has been associated with the 966 A.D. baptism of the court of Prince Mieszko I on Easter Monday, although there is some evidence that this practice existed beforehand as a pagan blessing for spring. Somehow, this blessing evolved into the custom of normally-upstanding young men showing their affection for a girl by dumping copious amounts of water on her head.

Illustration of Dyngus Day traditions.
Polish youth in traditional dress,
engaging in Śmigus-Dyngus pursuits.
Basket of Pysanky eggs.
Pysanky eggs decorated with symbols of nature's
renewal. Typically thought of as Ukranian, they are also
a beloved Polish tradition, exchanged within families.
The more bizarre practice of switching has it's roots in pre-Christian Poland, when the spring rites of cleansing, purification, and fertility included a switching with willows branches to make themselves "pure" for the coming year.

As the story goes, the more drenching or switching a girl receives, the higher the chance she will be married within the year. Advice for the marriage-minded maid: scout out groups of men holding water bottles and willow branches, and walk very, very slowly.

In the spirit of gender-equality, the ladies get to retaliate on Tuesday, adding plates and broken crockery to the mix of weaponry. If either sex wishes to avoid impending nuptials, all they have to do is bribe the oncoming attacker with Poland’s most ancient symbol of fertility, the ornately painted Easter egg.

In America, Śmigus-Dyngus is known as Dyngus Day, an American-Polish tradition loosely based on the ancient spring customs.

Buffalo, New York is home to the largest Dyngus Day celebration in the United States, with smaller festivals in communities with sizable Polish-American populations such as Chicago, Illinois; Elizabeth, New Jersey; Bristol, Connecticut; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and South Bend, Indiana (where Dyngus Day also marks the beginning of the political primary season).

As the popular 2006 polka anthem explains, "Everybody’s Polish on Dyngus Day!", leading outsiders to describe the experience as "St. Patrick’s Day for Polish people."

But this is not a mere drinking event. For some time, Polish Americans have been made to feel embarrassment about their Polish ancestry (no one enjoys being the punchline of a Polak joke), and this event helps create awareness of the long-denied positive aspects of Polish heritage by exploring quirky Polish customs, traditional food, folk music and dance.

Dyngus celebrations typically begin mid-morning Easter Monday with mass, followed by a large buffet of traditional Easter foods (kielbasa, ham, fresh breads, and eggs) and plenty of beer, vodka and whiskey. Evening parades feature elaborate floats celebrating Polish heritage, rivaling Mardi Gras in color and style.

Young singles spend the better part of Monday attempting to drench desirables with squirt guns and (lightly) hit their backsides with pussy willow branches. Married folks display more decorum, gently spraying their significant others with cologne-scented water.

The atmosphere is one of friendliness and camaraderie, with lots of group participation and a general sense of great fun. Polka music (and dancing) is everywhere. And in typical Polski tradition, the Monday evening parties and polkas last until daylight, inspiring seasoned Dyngus participants to take Tuesday off.

Eggs Mimosa on Asparagus Nests

Serves 4

Eggs Mimosa was a popular mid-century first course luncheon dish. "Mimosa" refers not to the infamous brunch cocktail, but rather the grated egg yolk's resemblance to the brilliant yellow flowers of the same namefound all along the Mediterranean coast.
  • 6 large hard-boiled eggs, shells removed
  • 1 pound thick-stemmed asparagus, tough ends trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 6 ounces cooked shrimp, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon capers, drained, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Chives, for garnish (optional)
Cut eggs in half lengthwise. Remove the yolks; set yolks and whites aside.

Using vegetable peeler and beginning at the bottom, peel lengthwise strips from asparagus. Reserve any remaining stem for another use. Transfer to a large bowl.

Whisk together lemon juice and honey until smooth. Add oil in a steady stream, whisking until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if desired. Add 3 tablespoons vinaigrette to asparagus; toss to combine.

In a medium bowl, break up two of the reserved yolks with a fork. Stir in the yogurt until smooth, then add shrimp, capers, chives, zest, salt and pepper, stirring to combine.

Using a spoon, carefully stuff each egg half with the shrimp mixture.

Evenly arrange a tangle of asparagus on four salad plates, top each with three egg halves.

Using the fine holes of a box grater or a rotary cheese grater, gently grate an egg yolk over each plate. Garnish with more chives, if desired. Serve with remaining vinaigrette on the side.