Śmigus-Dyngus: Poland's National Water Fight Day
If you're in Poland on Easter Monday, then 'look out for the water' is a useful piece of advice... It's known as Wet Monday for a reason!
On this day, girls are sprayed, soused, and otherwise soaked in water – and nowadays boys as well. What might come across to a foreigner as a spontaneous adolescent mating ritual, is in fact a venerable tradition of old.
Today, the water games also tend to develop into a free for all, where the nearest and most unsuspecting person – girl or boy, man or woman – is a legitimate target. Śmigus-Dyngus, also known as lany poniediałek (”Wet Monday”), is played out with water pistols, bottles, water balloons thrown from windows, plastic bags or whatever means are on hand – and in some rare places even fire trucks have been known to join in. Traditionally, Easter Monday is the day when boys are allowed to shower girls with water (and spank them with pussy willow, even if this part of the tradition is today less common). According to tradition, girls had to wait until the following day to launch similar attacks of their own. Today, however, Wet Monday is the one chance for all to set up an ambush.
The exact origins of the Śmigus-Dyngus water games are disputed, but it seems clear that they form part of a celebration of spring and fertility. This part of the Easter tradition can also be seen as one of the ritualised ways in which boys and girls of the peasant society were able to legitimately look into the possibilities of future bonding.
For this particular custom, similar traditions in Czech Republic, Slovakia (known as ”oblévačka” and ”oblievačka” respectively) and Hungary (”vízbevető”) suggest a common origin in the lands inhabited by West Slavic tribes. The term ”dyngus” is considered to be derived from the German language, further suggesting that this custom might be rooted west of the Polish heartland.
Over the centuries, the festivities around Śmigus-Dyngus have not always met with the approval of the rulers of the society. In 1410, the bishop of Poznań issued an edict named ”Dingus Prohibitur”. However, the covering with water has also been given a religious interpretation, when associated with the baptism of Mieszko I, which occurred on Easter Monday, 966. Mieszko I was the first Christian king of Poland, and the first ruler of what could arguably be called a unified Poland. The portrait of this first king can now be seen on the 10 zloty bill.
The name Śmigus-Dyngus is itself a combination of two different traditions, which long ago became merged. ”Śmigus” refers to the water fight itself, while ”Dyngus” refers to another act, when a girl threatened with water could bribe herself out of the peril by offering a token: a painted Easter egg. The egg would then, in German, have been called a ”dingei” or a ”dingnis” (ransom), which became ”dyngus”. Part of the tradition around this time was also a Dyngus procession, where the boys of the village went from door to door, reciting verses and demanding gifts.
Today, what widely remains of these rituals, is a playful break from the Church and family celebrations of Easter. So playful and so widely observed in fact, that a visitor – irrespective of gender and age – should make sure to hide away any electronic devices and try to keep out of harm's way or, why not – join in the fun!
Gabriel Stille, Winter 2013