Dyngus Day brings Poland to New Orleans

A little-known Polish holiday has arrived in New Orleans, thanks to a group of transplants from New York who bonded watching the Buffalo Bills.

Dyngus Day at Siberia, 2227 St. Claude Ave., celebrates the end of Lenten sacrifice and the beginning of spring with ecstatic eating, drinking and dancing on “Easter Monday,” the day after Easter.

For Dyngus Day’s New Orleans organizers, Aaron Baczkowski and Jonathan Rogers, from Buffalo and Ithaca, N.Y., respectively, introducing the holiday to the city felt like a natural fit. Dyngus Day in New Orleans acts as the perfect bookend to Mardi Gras by celebrating the end of a time of austerity. Everyone is invited to come be Polish for a day.

In addition to creating another reason for revelry, Rogers hopes to bring attention to “a heritage that seems to be a bit forgotten at times. I have found it’s occasionally a struggle to find Slavic, Eastern European and Russian traditions within the city.”

Also known as Wet Monday, the holiday’s origins trace back to the ritual of pouring water as a symbol for purification. Later, with the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland, families would bring home holy water to bless their houses. This ritual became a fun excuse to douse each other first thing in the morning, which expanded to dousing strangers on the street.

Another ritual surrounding Dyngus Day is related to fertility and courtship. Girls and boys would make switches with sticks or pussy willow branches and playfully hit each other.

The holiday is still celebrated on a smaller scale in Poland, especially in rural areas, and in a few U.S. cities with active Polish communities. Buffalo — which proclaims itself the “Dyngus Day Capital of the World” — celebrates with a parade, polka music and dancing, and Polish cuisine, vodka and beer.

“Our goal is to honor an authentic Polish holiday, while bringing a little bit of New Orleans flair,” Rogers said.

The second annual Dyngus Day NOLA celebration at Siberia starts at 5 p.m. Monday with a sit-down feast of Polish dishes, such as pierogi, cabbage rolls and kielbasa sausage, served by Matthew Ribachonek’s Kukhnya, the Eastern European kitchen at Siberia.

Debauche, New Orleans’ “Russian mafia band,” will kick up a dancing frenzy at 8 p.m., fueled by chilled Sobieski vodka specials. Guests are encouraged to wear red and white, Poland’s national colors, and should expect to get a little wet with some squirt gun action.

“It was really exciting seeing people of Polish descent lighting up when they arrived at last year’s celebration and saw the pussy willows and the pierogies and heard the music,” Rogers said.

Although similar to Mardi Gras, Dyngus Day has its own wild energy, Baezkowski said. “It’s like the random kiss on New Year’s Eve,” he said. “Grab a pussy willow and flirt, and don’t let your reserve overwhelm you.”