What a strange Easter weekend.
Many of our readers surely are disappointed that they have not been able to fully participate in this holy time of year. They are upset that they can’t see their extended families. They aren't hosting big dinners, or racing to the airport to catch a flight.
In my house, we have another tradition that we are missing out on: Dyngus Day.
Yes, Dyngus Day. Pronounced DING-us.
In Polish-American households, Easter Monday is Dyngus Day, a celebration from the old country mashed up with our more American sensibilities.
I explain it to my friends like this: Dyngus Day is the Polish Mardi Gras. Where Mardi Gras signals the last day to party before Lent, Dyngus Day is the first day to party after.
(For those wondering, yes, I am Polish. From South Bend, Ind., the spiritual home of Dyngus Day, a couple of hours from Chicago. My Perrys lost their “-skis” a long time ago; all of our other familial names are appropriately unpronounceable.)
In Poland, Dyngus Day was a celebration for kids. Little boys marked the occasion by chasing girls, hitting them in the legs with pussy-willow switches and splashing them with buckets of water. No, I'm not sure the point of all of this, either, but it explains Dyngus' other nickname, "Wet Monday."
Some of these old traditions really don’t age well.
Here in America, in places like South Bend, Chicago and Buffalo, N.Y., Dyngus Day means:
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A large enclave of Polish immigrants have lived in northern Indiana and the south side of Chicago for generations. Their ranks have concentrated on South Bend’s west side, where I was born and raised.
And ground zero for Dyngus Day in South Bend is at the West Side Democratic and Civic Club.
The party starts in early morning Easter Monday. I will admit that I have partaken in a few 9 a.m. Old Styles with nice Polish people at Dyngus Day. The party goes on at several other Polish fraternal clubs, and even some Irish bars get in on the action (they are probably taking notes on how to throw a real celebration).
South Bend’s Dyngus Day is famous for the 1968 edition. Democratic presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy came to the West Side club to shake hands and stump the vote among the working-class Polish-Americans in the city. It sounds strange, until you realize that, to be elected president, it is required that you eat a corndog in Iowa.
His visit was April 15, 1968, just 11 days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Two months later, Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles on June 6.
Today, politicians of all stripes use Dyngus Day as a time to spread their messages and meet potential voters.
But it is also worth remembering the spiritual aspect of the holiday.
The Rev. Leonard Chrobot, for many years, was known as the “Dyngus Day priest.” During his career, he was priest as several of the nearby neighborhood Catholic churches.
Chrobot launched many a Dyngus Day celebration at the West Side club, where he was the holiday’s unofficial chaplain.
Before the drinking and partying would start, Chrobot would offer a prayer and bless those assembled, using holy water and a small broom sprinkler.
When my wife and I saw him several years ago, he offered a warning to the revelers before his blessing.
“Now this is holy water,” I recall Chrobot saying. “If you see sparks — run!”
Contact Editor J.J. Perry at 218-844-1466, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com, or follow @jjperry on Twitter.