Dyngus Day, the Polish version of Lent, is celebrated the Monday after Easter. What was once mostly a celebration only known to Polish-Americans is now in its ninth year as a growing Cleveland-area tradition.
What started in in 2010 as a small polka party in the Gordon Square Arts District has blossomed into multi-location festival that attracted 45,000 people last year. If you’ve never been, or want a few helpful tips, here are five things you should know before heading to pierogi heaven.
1. Bring a squirt gun and a pussy willow frond.
The origins of Smigus-Dyngus (as it’s known in Poland) go back to the 14th century, and translates roughly to “Wet Monday”. In a tradition very likely not conceived by the women of the village, boys would sneak into girls homes, throw water on them, and spank them with pussy willows. According to Wikipedia, “Sometimes a girl would be carried out, still in her bed, before both bed and girl were thrown into the water together.” This would all happen while the boys chanted “Dyngus, dyngus, for two eggs; I don’t want bread, only eggs.” Then the girls would exact revenge on the boys.
Thankfully, modern-day Dyngus celebrations are less psychotic.
Grab a cheap squirt gun from the dollar store, (or dig one out of your Summer toy box) and pick up pussy willows from a florist, craft supply store like Michaels, or see if you can score one for free at the event. You can now put a modern twist on a centuries-old tradition by squirting and whipping your loved ones!
(But please keep the soaking and spanking to your known friends and family, it’s not every strangers idea of fun, even on Dyngus.)
2. Make a day of it.
If you have the luxury of having the day off work, you can see some of the areas most unique places to eat and drink, and see all the crazy main stage antics.
Start of day:
At 10:30, you can see the opening ceremony; which includes master of ceremonies DJ Kishka lighting the Spring Chicken aflame (not a real chicken, don’t worry), a reading of a Dyngus Day poem, and followed immediately by the Chardon Polka band. All nearby bars and restaurants will be open by 11, along with all street vendors. You can get some early lunch from pierogi vendors, or wander further West down Detroit to check out the nearby locally-owned shops. One unique stop could be the Zone Car Lounge (1303 W 58th St) a bar that is normally only open to police (and friends of police), that will be open to the public for Dyngus.
The event spreads to three close-by sections of Cleveland (more on getting around in the next sections), so be sure to check out some of the other areas of the neighborhood. Hi & Dry Bowling and Beer (2221 Professor Ave) is offering Polka Karaoke, and Mitchell’s Ice Cream (1867 W 25th) is serving up ice cream over paczki (donuts). Several breweries are serving 1-day only beers, like Platform Beer Co. (4125 Lorain Ave) with Prague Rock-A-Czech Style Pilsner, Hansa Brewery (2717 Lorain Ave) with Pussy Willow Gratzer, Forest City Brewery (2135 Columbus Rd) with Godziskie Beer and Great Lakes Brewing Co. (2516 Market Ave) with Dyngus Day Honey Ale.
Afternoon/End of Day:
The main stage next to The Happy Dog (5108 Detroit Ave) will kick into high gear with the Dyngus Day Blessing starting at 4pm, followed by the crowing of the newest “Miss Dyngus Day”. Whoever is crowned as having the most Polish Spirit will become a part of the Accordion Parade that kicks off down Detroit Road at 6pm. The festivities will continue at participating locations until the venues varying closing times. For the hard-core Dyngus-heads, the Polish-owned Parkview Nite Club (1261 W 58th St) will be open and polka-ing until 2am.
3. You can travel to the Dyngus hotspots for free on Lolly the Trolley.
Lolly the Trolley, the well-known tour trolleys of Cleveland will be providing FREE rides to other Dyngus Day participant locations in Ohio City and Tremont from 2-8pm. You can see the trolley stops on this graphic:
4. You can see live music all day.
Polka music is the soundtrack of Dyngus, and you can hear live polka all day at no less than 18 locations. Here’s a run-down of where to hear the high-spirited music.
Forest City Brewery – Eric Noltkamper Band, 1pm-4pm
Great Lakes Brewing Co. – Phil Yan Polka Band, Noon – 3pm
The Happy Dog – Those Guys, 1:30pm – 3:30 / Chardon Polka Band 5:30pm – 7:30pm
The Harp – Phil Yan Polka Band, 4pm – 7pm
Hansa Brewery – Live Accordion, 2pm – 4pm
Jukebox – Jimmy K & the Cleveland All-Stars, 1pm – 4pm
Luxe Kitchen & Lounge – Mike Wojtila & Kelly Marie 11am-2pm / Ed Klimczak 2pm – 5pm / Wojitila Brothers 5pm – 8pm
Ohio City Galley – Brian Papesh Party Band, 5pm – 7pm
Parkview Nite Club – various acts, Noon – 8pm
Prosperity Social Club – Stan Mejac Noon – 6pm / Traditional Polka 6:30 – 9pm
Roosevelt Post 58 – Patty C & the Guys 3pm – 7pm
Southside Kitchen & Bar – Visinata, 3pm – 5pm / 6pm-8pm
Spice Kitchen & Bar – Polka Pirates, 1pm – 4pm
Toast – Malphonia, 2pm – 5pm
XYZ – Harmonia, 6pm
Zone Car Lounge – Ralph the Accordion Man & Band, 11am – 1:30pm
The Main Stage – Chardon Polka Band, 11am – 1pm / Don Wojtila band, 1pm – 3pm / Alex Meixner, 6:30pm – 9:30pm
5. You can get a big discount ordering a ride home on Lyft.
Never drive if you feel fuzzy from drinking. You can always pick your car up later. Lyft is offering a Dyngus Day discount by entering the promo code DYNGUS19 into the coupon code. It’s good for 20% off up to two rides, all day anywhere near the festival.
That should give you a great start on making the most out of your day, for more details and schedules, check out the Official Dyngus Day website.
For some polka-adjacent viewing, check out this run-down of weird Polka album covers.