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WNY Polonia and thousands of revelers face Dyngus Day disappointment

WBFO file photo/Mike Desmond

The day after Easter, under usual circumstances, draws thousands of people to venues in Buffalo's East Side and throughout Western New York in celebration of Dyngus Day, the Polish custom marking the end of Lent. But this year, COVID-19 has thrown a bucket of water on the Dyngus Day plans of many venues and their would-be patrons.

From churches to clubs to banquet halls, dozens of sites are frequented from early afternoon through late into the evening by people celebrating Polish heritage (including those who adopt the ethnicity for the day). With New York PAUSE and its ban of large public gatherings still in effect, the stages are silent and the bars dry.

For many institutions, though, hosting Dyngus Day is more than just being the place to find the party. Joseph Mikolaj Rej, president of General Pulaski Association, Inc., says the money raised through ticket sales and beer purchases help many of these establishments pay bills throughout the entire year.

He describes it as their "Super Bowl."

"Organizations do things all year round. For a lot of churches - people aren't going to church like they used to and they're missing that weekly income," said Rej, naming Corpus Christi and St. Stanislaus Churches in Buffalo as examples of venues that depend on Dyngus Day revenues. "A lot of people don't understand or know that these other clubs are actually open all year round, or you know, once or twice a week, and they're not necessarily utilizing them. They just think it's open on Dyngus Day."

His General Pulaski Association of Western New York was offering several hours of music streamed live on its Facebook page. The page also lists several venues with strong Polish-American heritage and recommends one dollar donations per drink consumed at home to help them offset losses as the result of Dyngus Day cancellations.

Social media on Monday remained vibrant with Dyngus Day messages and music. One of the bands that might normally entertain patrons, Buffalo polka band Those Idiots, is offering a humorous take on spending this Dyngus Day in quarantine, and posted a parody online.

In the meantime, Rej has a message for those who might feel a little tempted to gather, even in small numbers: don't. While Dyngus Day 2020 may not be meant to be, there will be plenty of other celebrations within Polonia once society is allowed to reconvene.

"We do events throughout the year. All the organizations pretty much do events throughout the year. You know, maybe in a matter of weeks or months, there's gonna be a lot of events to attend," he said. "It would suck if you got sick and then you'd have to miss out on those events."

WBFO sought comment by Dyngus Day Buffalo, which organizes the annual East Side parade and hosts shuttles that travel from venue to venue. That call was not returned.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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