April 9, 2012
Happy Dyngus Day!
I hope you all have had a happy holiday--not Passover or Easter, which were celebrated this weekend-- but rather today's holiday: Dyngus Day! Readers know that we like to do the occasional holiday land-use post, so here goes.
Dyngus Day is an east-central European tradition, primarily from Poland, that is celebrated on Easter Monday. It appears to come from a pre-Christian veneration of the pagan gods of water (Dingus) and earth (Smigus). It's linked to the spring themes of rebirth, renewal, and even "spring cleaning." Apparently the tradition is that on Dyngus Day the young men get to pursue the young women whom they wish to court with buckets of water and willow branches. Today, both sexes can participate and there seems to be much use of squirt guns and water balloons.
What's the land use angle? Well, first, the whole seasonal/earth/water/renewal theme resonates with the land. But the next chapter of the Dyngus Day story is how it flourished in America from the height of 19th Century Polish immigration to today, and that story involves the same local government and politics issues that are familiar to land use observers. Dyngus Day first became a big deal in northern U.S. cities with large Polish-American immigrant populations. The sources I've read haven't quite come out and said so, but my impression is that the original American Dyngus Day celebrations probably had the intention of serving as the Polish-American equivalent of an ethnic pride/civic engagement day along the likes of what St. Patrick's Day was for the Irish and Columbus Day for the Italians. Dyngus Day traditionally involved a mix of festival and politics, such as when RFK gave an important campaign speech at the West Side Democratic Club's Dyngus Day affair in South Bend, Indiana. So Dyngus Day is part of the great American history of urban politics and local government.
In the last couple of decades there seems to have been something of a Dyngus Day revival. Buffalo is leading the way on the Dyngus front. It claims to have the world's largest Dyngus Day festival. There are also significant Dyngus events in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, South Bend, Milwaukee, and other cities. Of course these community events require the involvement of planners, street closures, and permits. The Buffalo Dyngus Parade is a centerpiece, and everyone knows that civic parades have land use implications. They even have a facebook page. Mostly, it's just a good time, an important community event, and a good example of local public-private cooperation.
I studied a lot of Polish history as an undergraduate, and I have my own fond memories of one Easter Monday striking out away from campus into South Bend (once one of the world's largest Polish-speaking cities), seeing the parade, and ending up down at the American Legion's Dyngus Day party, with good kielbasa, pierogies, and music. Remember, Everybody's Polish on Dyngus Day!
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Having grown up in Milwaukee, I had never heard of Dyngus day. Here in Buffalo it is a big deal. You missed my favorite part of the celebration though where the girls hit the boys (usually on their legs) with pussy willow branches.
Also making this an interesting holiday to note from an environmental standpoint: changes in weather patterns have led to a shortage of pussy willows this year.
Posted by: Jessie Owley | Apr 11, 2012 9:32:41 AM
I was definitely envious of Jessie Owley for being in Buffalo on Dyngus Day!
Posted by: Matt Festa | Apr 13, 2012 6:10:06 AM