By Ally Balcerzak
Buffalo is known for all sorts of things such as food, weather, and not-always-
great sports teams. We also happen to be home to the world’s largest Dyngus Day
celebration. Dyngus Day is a Polish holiday held the Monday after Easter that has
traditional ties to water and the harvest. But here in Buffalo, it has evolved into a
celebration of Polish heritage.
The easiest way to describe Dyngus Day would be to compare is to St. Patrick’s
Day, especially given the amount of drinking for each holiday. However, the holiday
focuses on bringing together the Polish community, with numerous traditions
coming out in full form. There is only one requirement for the dress code: you must
dress traditionally or wear red. Take a walk around Cheektowaga on Dyngus Day
and you’ll find a surprising number of people dressed in traditional Polish garb
while the rest opt for various Poland inspired t-shirts.
Despite being a Polish Buffalo native, I had never done Dyngus Day until this year.
Being a Monday, it can sometimes be difficult to justify spending the day partying,
but this year a few Generation editors decided to head down and check it out. So on
Easter Monday we donned our red shirts, grabbed some gloves, and headed out to
Cheektowaga to experience one of the most Buffalo days of the year. (Did you mean
to write that?)
This year’s festival featured Polish dancers performing at the Broadway Market
before the parade, various locations where Polka bands were playing, and food
galore all over Cheektowaga. Down by the end point for the parade, various food
trucks set up shop, with some offering up Polish inspired options such as pierogis
or Polish sausage, not that it was necessary. No matter where you went within
Cheektowaga, there was no shortage of pierogis. Traditionally, they are filled with
cheese, mashed potatoes or sauerkraut, with people often getting into debates over
what kind is the best. (Side note: a few Generation editors tried the farm cheese and
the cheesy potato ones at the Broadway Market and then proceeded to debate them
for twenty minutes. Farm cheese won.)
In true Buffalo fashion, open container laws were lax and plenty of people could
be seen walking the streets with beer. While at Corpus Christi church I overheard
a bartender telling two college students, “You can get Blue Light anywhere in this
town. You’re having a Tyskie today, ladies.” Inside the venues the beer options were
the popular Polish beers Tyskie and Zywiec, along with the standard Blue and Blue
Light, showing how Americanized the holiday has become.
The Euro Gypsy jazz music at the Broadway Market was a draw for many since it
provided a break from the polka music at other venues. It was surprising to hear
such a heavy American and international influence in the music since we were
standing in the middle of a Polish festival, but everyone around us seemed to
embrace it. At times it had a 1920s big band vibe along with a few Latin inspired
pieces, all of which flowed together and drew the crowd in.
Out in the streets, the parade floats were lined up to portray every Polish stereotype
out there. The Buffalo Dyngus Day parade is the largest in the world, with dozens of
floats taking part. This year a few people created floats in honor of Anderson Cooper
because he recently bailed on the festival despite saying he’d attend a year ago when
he mocked Dyngus Day on his show, Anderson Cooper 360. When you turn down
the honor of being the first ever Pussy Willow Prince, you can expect some serious
Some floats were lined with flamingos (Polacks like to put them on their lawn,
go with it), while others featured people dressed in traditional clothes. One float
went all out and created a dragon. We’re still not sure what Polish stereotype
it represented but it was hands down the most impressive in the parade. There
were also groups walking the route performing traditional dances and playing
instruments. Did you know people in Poland play bagpipes? Don’t worry, we didn’t
either, until we saw it and asked.
After the parade numerous after-parties are hosted around Cheektowaga, with the
largest one being in the Central Terminal. At the parties is where the frivolity begins
and young people begin squirting and beating each other with water guns and pussy
willows (think of it as the Polish form of flirting).
Dyngus Day is one of those things everyone should experience while in Buffalo. It’s
a festival as unique and quirky as the city. Next year’s celebration will be on Monday
April 21st, so hopefully it’ll be warm. Until then, you can spend the year hunting for
that perfect Polish pride t-shirt.