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Buffalo’s Dyngus Day celebrates spring and Polish heritage

Apr 19, 2018

The centerpiece of Buffalo’s Dyngus Day celebration is the Dyngus Day parade, which kicks off at 5 p.m. in front of Corpus Christi Church in the historic Polonia District. According to the official parade website, tens of thousands of people flock to Buffalo each year for this colorful event, which features marchers in traditional Polish attire, floats resembling medieval shops, fire trucks and, of course, polka bands.

Attend the parade, or one of the many before- and after-parties that surround it, and you might be sprinkled with water or tapped with a pussywillow switch. These ancient Polish customs celebrate the spring rites of cleansing, purification and fertility. The water pouring stems from the baptism in 966 A.D. of Prince Mieszko I, who brought Catholicism to Poland. More recently, young Polish men would tap the girls with branches from the pussywillow, one of the first plants to bud in the spring, to indicate their interest.

Buffalo’s historic Polonia District is centered around St. Stanislaus Parish, founded in 1873. Polish people immigrated to Western New York starting around 1850, driven by the desire to create a better life in America and unrest at home. At that time, there was no independent nation of Poland; the country was occupied by Germany, Austria and Russia.

According to historians, a Polish community of about 150 people took root on the east side of Buffalo in the 1870s. A German developer, Joseph Bork, the owner of a large parcel of land, sought to attract more Polish families and donated a tract to the Diocese of Buffalo for the establishment of a new church. Bork recognized that Polish communities tended to grow up around a house of worship, and after St. Stanislaus opened its doors in 1874, he started building homes around the parish.

The strategy worked, and other developers jumped on the bandwagon. The Polish American population in Buffalo grew rapidly between 1880, when there were about 5,500 people of Polish ancestry, and the early 1900s, when the Polish-American community was the second largest in the United States and one of the largest communities outside Poland in the world. Known as industrious folks, many of these people worked in East Buffalo’s factories; others were artists, singers, store owners and professionals such as bankers, doctors and journalists. Some even went into politics—several Polish Americans have served as Buffalo council members and mayors. As the numbers of Polish Americans grew, more churches were established—along with a number of taverns, restaurants, clubs, shops and other neighborhood gathering places. (You can see a wonderful collection of historic Polonia photos here.)

All of these folks brought their traditions with them and passionately sought to keep them alive. The Historic Polonia District today is a diverse neighborhood, but many of its features, from street and shop names to the old-world Broadway Market, reflect its Polish origins. And Dyngus Day is the time when Polish pride reaches its peak.

Observances of Dyngus Day date back to the 1870s, but the modern Dyngus Day celebration started in 1961, when two members of the Chopin Singing Society, Judge Ann Mikoll and her husband Theodore, threw a party at the Society’s clubroom on Kosciuszko Street. The idea caught on, and other groups throughout the city launched a host of parties throughout the 1960s. The parade was first added to the day’s lineup in 2006.

Dyngus Day parties begin Monday morning with feasting on traditional foods and continue through the night. The hardiest partiers are still at it when the sun comes up on Tuesday. Most celebrants won’t make it quite that long, but as Buffalonians like to say, “everybody’s Polish on Dyngus Day!”

Dyngus Day is just one part of the rich history and culture of Buffalo, and people from young professionals to active retirees love to immerse themselves in this fascinating community. If you’re a member of the latter group, and you want to be part of the urban excitement, you’ll want to explore Canterbury Woods Gates Circle, a new continuing care retirement community in the heart of the city. If you prefer a more relaxed environment, look into Canterbury Woods’ suburban campus at Williamsville. At both communities, you’ll find elegant living and dining options, a huge menu of on- and off-campus activities and amenities, and the finest in health care services.

For more information about Canterbury Woods Gates Circle, scheduled to open this fall, please give us a call at 716-929-5811 or request information here. To learn more about Canterbury Woods Williamsville, please call us at (716) 929-5817 or submit a request here.

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