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Red and white and polka-dotted all over, Dyngus Day is a tradition COVID can't stop

The spirit was willing, but COVID regulations took much of the rowdy fun and crowds out of Buffalo's annual Dyngus Day parade.

Usually, it’s a spectacle. Everyone is Polish for a day, with pussy willows, red banners and the traditional white eagle of Poland.

However, this year, the Erie County Health Department forced the celebration into a few blocks and onto streaming video for this pandemic year.

Before the limited parade could move down Memorial Drive, it required a sprinkling of holy water and a prayer from Fr. Michal Czyzewski of Corpus Christi Church. Once the blessing was completed, the parade traveled through the historic neighborhood of Buffalonians of Polish descent.

Sherry Petronsky was at the Adam Mickiewicz Center on Fillmore Avenue, wearing the dress and head-dress symbolic of her pure Polish heritage, lamenting the change.

"I'm devastated that there's not more people," Petronsky said. "Even though there's all the COVID restrictions, where is the core group of Polish? Where are they? Honestly, I'm very surprised at the limited numbers."

Skies were gray and, at times, rainy, but numbers were also limited in part because of a competing event in Williamsville, a more political and unmasked rally, that still featured plenty of red and white and polkas.

Sandee Janik-Grega was there.

"This is fun. As long as you can celebrate with family and friends, that's all that matters," Janik-Grega said. "We were at the polka mass this afternoon and they said, as long as you can celebrate, remember Christ rose from the dead and you can celebrate with family and friends, then you've got a good Dyngus Day. And that's what we've got. All family and friends here."

Michelle Kisluke agreed. She was at the same suburban party in Polish dancing attire.

"Dances that they do now that you see is polka, dancing that everybody gets into," Kisluke said. "But we do Polish folk dancing, which in each region in Poland has a specific, unique set of steps that goes with that region."

Polish dancing is an important part of Buffalo’s Dyngus Day, a celebration this year's participants hope will return to the giant events of past years in 2022.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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