Smingus Dyngus (also known as Polewanka or Lany Poniedziałek) is a traditional celebration held in Poland on Easter Monday that probably dates from pagan times. The tradition has mutated from its earlier forms over the years, but in its essentials, it involves boys running around soaking girls in water. Girls who are soaked are said to be likely to marry within the year.
Pouring water on people in the springtime is a tradition that has its roots in antiquity as part of the rituals of fertility and cleansing, and some theories state that Smigus and Dyngus are the names of two pagan gods representing earth and lightning. This tradition was adopted by Christianity, as so many old Pagan customs were, as its sacrament of Baptism, and it may be that the association in Poland of Easter with the dowsing of people in water dates back to the year 966, when Prince Mieszko I was baptized on Easter Monday. However, the tradition retains its basic pagan characteristics to this day:
- Everyone just runs around and has a lot of fun.
- Hot girls get soaked most.
Originally known as Oblewania (or Oblewanka), the custom became known as Smingus Dyngus after the 15th century, when it was clearly divided into 2 phases. In the first phase (Smingus), boys and men would run around pouring water on women. They also beat them on their bare legs with pussy willow for unspecified reasons - this doesn't happen any more. In the second phase (Dyngus), the same men and boys would wander around asking for donations (similar to the trick or treat tradition that survives in Halloween). No one was allowed to whip anyone during Dyngus. Generally, the amount of water that would get poured on a girl would be roughly proportional to her popularity and attractiveness, so having a dry daughter on this day would be reason for lamentation and for parents to refuse to give a donation to the boys. If this tradition seems somewhat one-sided, consider that from the following Tuesday until Pentecost, the women had free rein to soak the men.
According to some online sources, the earlier Oblewania tradition focused on the exchange of gifts (usually eggs) and the soaking only took place if gifts where not forthcoming. Later, the soaking and courting aspect took preeminence, and in fact, would usually be done with the consent of the girl's parents, who would allow the boy to wake the girl up in bed by pouring multiple buckets of water over her.
The tradition of dousing people in water on Easter Monday appears in most Slavonic cultures - for instance, in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, girls are often woken on Easter Monday with a bucket of water on the head. However, it is most apparent today in Poland, where it is as much a part of the Easter holiday as the Easter Bunny and chocolate eggs might be in the United Kingdom or the United States. These days anyone can soak anyone, and no one tries too hard not to be soaked. Ending up bone-dry on Smingus Dyngus in Poland is like getting no cards on Valentine's Day. It's not even limited to young courting couples any more - on Easter Monday, beware walking beneath any high balconies or apartment buildings, where people of all ages pass the time by emptying receptacles of water on passers-by.
Areas of the United States where there was heavy Polish Immigration, such as Chicago, often celebrate Easter Monday as Dyngus Day. In Buffalo, New York, the celebrations rival those of Saint Patrick's Day by the Irish. In a vague remembrance of the whipping tradition, pussy willow is displayed in the celebrants' windows.