Holy Śmigus-Dyngus! You’ve Never Seen Easter Like This
By Correspondent Kasia Steward in England.
Easter time in Poland is full of unique traditions, but nothing stands out more for me than the so-called ‘Śmigus-Dyngus’, also known as ‘Wet Monday’. It’s a time children look forward to with excitement, though some adults (especially those without a sense of humour) dread it. It’s a day where social boundaries are pushed to the limits for the greater good – the fun!
When I talk to foreigners about it, I’m aware of just how bizarre it must sound to them. Whereas, when I’m part of it, it feels as though I belong to this celebration. So what happens on that day? Well, if you were to take a walk with me, you would see kids and young people with buckets, squirt guns, plastic containers filled with water – anything goes! – with a mission to drench some unsuspecting victim. It’s the only day in the whole year when children are allowed home soaking wet, and when going out is potentially risky for anybody, regardless of age or social status.
I remember how much fun it was when I was young. Running around with my brothers, cousins and neighbours, screaming, flirting with danger whilst planning a survival strategy (mine was usually rather defensive and as such I would spend most of the day hiding from others). We were mischievous, excited and scared all at the same time. Some years, I had to change my clothes several times in a day, which obviously didn’t find my mum’s approval. Although on such an occasion, even mother herself couldn’t resist the opportunity to splash the family.
This celebration has uncertain origins; however, it probably refers to some pagan traditions dating back to before 1000 A.D. Traditionally boys tried to drench girls with water and spank them with willow branches, whereas nowadays, anybody can do the soaking. It felt to me like an excuse for doing something fun, something that at other times would be considered socially unacceptable. Of course, even on Wet Monday there are certain unspoken rules – you simply don’t throw a bucket of water on an old woman crossing the street, and the spanking with willow branches, or for that matter any form of foliage, is strictly off limits.
Since moving to London a few years ago and spending Easter away from Poland, I realized how much I miss this weird tradition. My Polish identity is now left disappointed as Easter Mondays pass me by in routine events and social conformity. I tried once to introduce it to my British husband, but let’s just say it didn’t go down well. It’s probably just one of those cultural things that you have to grow up with, otherwise it just makes no sense at all.
Is getting soaked to the skin your idea of fun?
Hi, I am a counsellor, teacher and translator who loves anything to do with words. I am also a wife and a mother to a beautiful 10-month-old boy. I am Polish in blood, heart and accent but I live in England and enjoy being surrounded by different cultures.