A good piece of advice: beware of Easter Monday in Poland! Although this advice might seem strange, you really should take it to heart, cause otherwise… you’ll get soaked! The tradition of Śmigus-Dyngus is still going strong in Poland.
Śmigus-Dyngus? Sounds peculiar, so let us explain. Śmigus-Dyngus, also known as lany poniedziałek (Wet Monday), is a Polish Easter Monday tradition which, in short, involves people throwing copious amounts of water at each other. ‘Why?’ you may ask. Well…
The tradition most likely goes back to the 14th century, however, it likely also has pre-Christian origins connected to the March equinox and the coming of spring – water being a symbol of life and renewal. Similar traditions can be found all around Central and Eastern Europe, with Поливаний понеділок (Watering Monday) in Ukraine, Oblévačka in Czech, Oblievačka in Slovak, Vízbevető in Hungary, and it’s known as ‘Dyngus Day’ in Polish communities outside Poland.
Although the exact origins of Śmigus-Dyngus have yet to be established, the most commonly-known story is, that way back when, on Easter Monday, boys in the countryside would be allowed to drench girls with water and smack them with branches of pussy willow. Although it sounds terrible, it was usually meant as a way to show their affection (and likely resulted in some marriages later on).
Śmigus or dyngus
As it turns out, Śmigus and Dyngus were originally two separate customs, however there are many different ideas of what they looked like and exactly where they came from. Most commonly, Śmigus was known to involve the symbolic whacking of people’s legs with palm fronds or willows and drenching them in cold water, which was meant to cleanse them of dirt and diseases, and later of sin.
Dyngus, however, was supposedly a chance to save yourself from being drenched a second time by bribing the ‘drencher’ with a decorated egg. Another idea is associated with ancient Slavic wandering practices – people went around visiting relatives and friends, sharing refreshments and joy. Processions of boys stomped through villages, going door to door, reciting poems and demanding gifts.
Yet another idea suggests that Śmigus was the time for whacking willows, while Dyngus was the time for throwing water. While others believe the custom is related to the Baptism of Poland, the personal baptism of Mieszko I, the first ruler of the future Polish state, and much of his court.
Now Śmigus-Dyngus is a natural part of Easter festivities in Poland. Funnily enough, the first mention of the custom in Poland comes from 1420, when the archdiocese of Poznań issued an edict named ‘Dingus Prohibetur’, which warned people about the sinful acts committed taking part in Śmigus-Dyngus.
Today, as a the hybrid Śmigus-Dyngus, this relatively harmless set of rituals has turned into a full-blown national water fight. It no longer only involves just young boys and girls. It can involve anyone. That’s right – you may be just an innocent passer-by, but you too may be soaked from head to toe. Śmigus-Dyngus has become a free-for-all: water guns, water bottles, water balloons from above – you never know where the water is going to come from! In some cases, even fire trucks have been known to join in the festivities.
So, you seem to have two choices: either come prepared with a raincoat and an umbrella, or arm yourself with a heavy-duty water gun. Happy Easter!
Gabriel Stille, Winter 2013, updated by NR, March 2018