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Monday, April 25, 2011

Dyngus Day

I had a dear clergy colleague who would call me every Easter Monday with the same greeting, "Alleluia! He is risen! And, I am dead!"

All the various services of the Three Holy Days of the Triduum, followed by Easter Day - especially the food fest - can leave one in somewhat of a holy stupor come Monday.

It's a one-two-three part punch of the busyness of preparation, the out-of-the-ordinary schedule of so many days in church, and the intensity of the experience of the retelling and reliving of the painfully human events leading up to the betrayal, torture and crucifixion of Jesus and ending with His most glorious resurrection.

This is the day when the Orthodox Church celebrates the "trick" Jesus played on Satan by robbing the Evil One of death. Jokes are told and pranks are pulled and all in the name of the great Cosmic Joke of the gift of Eternal Life.

Indeed, Easter Monday - or 'Bright' or 'Renewal' Monday - is a holiday in many, many countries around the world . From Poland to Papua New Guinea, Lebanon to Lesotho, and Greece to Gibraltar, the feast will continue.  Egg rolling contests or dousing people with holy water left over from Easter Day (or, not-so-holy water in squirt guns or 'water splashers') are very common.

In my own Portuguese family, Easter Monday meant gathering up the Easter Eggs which we had hunted for on Easter Day and taking them to the church lawn for an Easter Egg Rolling Contest on the hill which was on the side of the Church. 

This would be followed by a great pot-luck lunch to which marvelous plates of fish (cod and pike, mostly, smothered in onions, garlic and tomatoes) would be served.

You could always find me next to the large mound of periwinkles - steamed in garlic, onion, chicken broth and vermouth.  (Hmm... perhaps it should have been known as "Garlic Monday.")

Some of us would have spent at least part of Holy Saturday at the nearby Horseneck State Beach gathering up the "Poor Man's Escargot" from their places in the crevices of rocks.

After they were steamed, I would sit for hours, my safety pin in hand, pulling out the sweet tasting meat buried deep within the shell.

Served up with some thick-cut slices of crusty Portuguese bread and slathered with butter, I imagined that I had died and gone to heaven.

To my young mind, nothing said "Empty Tomb" quite like a great mound of empty periwinkle shells.

In many places around the world - especially in Poland and in parts of the United States where there is a high concentration of Polish immigrants, today is known as "Dyngus Day".

According to Zygmunt Gloger's 19th-Century Encyklopedia Staropolska, the name for this day can be traced back to a medieval form of the word dingnus, meaning 'worthy, proper, or suitable', and perhaps the German usage of dingen, 'to come to an agreement, evaluate or buy back' – there is an association here with the German word dingeier, meaning 'the eggs which are owing'.

In a Spring custom of pagan (pre-Christian Slavic) times, the Poles 'confronted' (dingen) Nature with their pouring of water and switching with pussy willows to purify themselves for the year ahead. The alternative name for the day comes from smiganie, meaning 'switching'.

One site reports that:
Buffalo, New York is unofficially the Dyngus Capital of America with the largest concentration of festival locations and live polka music. Smaller festivals can be found in communities with sizable Polish-America populations such as South Bend in Indiana, Chicago in Illinois, Elizabeth in New Jersey, Bristol in Connecticut and Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania. Celebrations in South Bend kick off the political campaign season in the City.

As the popular polka anthem explains, "Everybody’s Polish on Dyngus Day!” Many parties begin during the mid-morning on the Monday after Easter with a large buffet of traditional Easter foods (kielbasa, ham, fresh breads, and eggs). It is common to hear polka music on Dyngus Day with the mandatory dancing of at least one polka. Many parties continue well into daylight on Tuesday. (A tip to the first-time Dyngus participant: take Tuesday off from work.)

This is a yearly debate among Dyngus Day revelers. The tradition holds true that on Easter Monday boys would sprinkle the girls with water and tap them with pussy willows. On Easter Tuesday, the women would return the favorite. At modern Dyngus Day parties it is common practice that both men and women trade water and pussy willow equally.
I suspect it's a bit like grammar or middle school courting wherein the boy pulls a girls hair as a sign of interest/affection. Perhaps its a throwback to the old caveman with the club thing. I don't get it but it has its own charm, I suppose, in its own way.

I love this little note about pussy willows at the end:
But, how did the pussy willow get its name? According to Polish legend, many springs ago, baby kittens fell into a raging river while chasing butterflies. The mother cat sadly wept at the river’s edge, pleading for help for her drowning kittens. The willows heard her mournful cries and swept their long graceful branches into the water. The kittens grabbed the branches, held on tightly and were safely brought to shore. Every spring, from that day on, the willows sprouted fur-like buds where the tiny kittens once clung.
You can also hear a fascinating discussion on NPR of the somewhat odd Dyngus Day courting ritual of Pussy Willows and Water that brings people to Buffalo in search of true love.

Easter Monday is all about the joy of Easter and celebrating love - ancient and new - and life - new and eternal - with wonderful if not somewhat childish pranks. And, dancing. And, food. And yes, beer.

Meanwhile, back in what I like to call my "third floor, lonely little writer's garret" in Cambridge, MA, it's a drizzly, rainy April day. I've got two presentations to prepare for my two classes this week, a sermon to write for Sunday, and lunch with a friend in the midst of various errands and other tasks.

I'll just let the drizzle of the rain provide the sprinkling and drenching rites which are being more formally offered in churches and communities around the world. 

I will be preaching this coming "Doubting Thomas" Sunday at St. John's, Bowdoin Street while my rector is away, representing the church at the annual Walk for Hunger in Boston. This provides me with the sublime joy of presiding at that altar - the first time I have done so since October 19, 1986, the day after my priestly ordination.

Did I mention that I am absolutely thrilled and deeply honored?

No time for pussy willows and water or beer and sausage and dancing for me, even if I were so inclined. And, I'm not, actually.

No rest for the wicked, as they say.

Actually, this is the pace I prefer and the one I choose. I want to take in this Great Feast and slowly digest the rich, abundant feast of the past few days with all of it's lows and highs.

I want to enjoy the lingering memories of the luxury of the Easter Dinner I celebrated yesterday with friends of almost 35 years and a few new friends I hope will be in my life in some way for the next 35 years.

I want to claim for myself the sublime mystery of being in 'true love' with Jesus and drenching myself in the profound gift of Life Eternal.

I suspect taking this time will allow me to rise say, "Alleluia, he is risen!" throughout the rest of the year with even deeper, more profound meaning.

Dyngus Day, for me will be about that which gives 'dingnus', meaning 'worthy, proper, or suitable',

Even so, I wonder where I might find a large mound of steamed periwinkles for lunch.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!


it's margaret said...

He is risen indeed, Alleluia!!!

Many Easter blessings dear sister, but I'll leave the snails all to you! Now --my California traditions would lead us to oysters and abalone --now, that's good eatin'!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, YAY! More snails for me! YAY! And, you can bring on the oysters and abalone. YUM!YUM!

"Sir" said...

How interesting. That's what I like about blogging: you meet nice people and learn stuff!