Mardi Gras, Carnaval, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day, Paczki Day. The day before Lent has such an interesting, rich history and all over the world, it’s celebrated in different ways. But the main idea of all of them is to feast before the Lenten season and fasting begins. Paczki Day is a particularly sweet event celebrated by those of Polish influence.
The paczki, pronounced punch-key, are traditional Polish deep fried pastries, usually filled with some sort of jelly filling. While Paczki Day is observed the day before Ash Wednesday in the United States, Poland’s paczki sales are highest on Tlusty Czwartek, or “Fat Thursday,” a day that marks the start of the final week of pre-Lent celebrations.
The making of paczki started hundreds of years ago and came from the need to get rid of all forbidden food items in the home before Lent began, which included sugar and eggs. The paczki is similar to a Bismarck or jelly doughnut and is usually filled with rich fruit or crème fillings.
A rich and delicious treat, the paczki will leave you stuffed and perhaps, perfectly alright with giving up sweets for Lent. Of course, every delicious dish has its drawbacks. Each paczki usually has about 300-450 calories apiece. So you can just imagine how many calories you’d consume if you ate three or four. But then again, it is Fat Tuesday!
One place that takes Paczki day very seriously is the town of Hamtramck, Michigan. Though originally settled by German farmers, Polish immigrants made it their home and to this day, they still make up the majority of the population. According to the city’s website, a recent survey found that 26 native languages are spoken by Hamtramck schoolchildren.
Hamtramck holds the honor of being the only city in the U.S. to put together an annual Paczki Day Parade and celebration. Often called the “Polish St. Patrick’s Day,” the celebration lasts all day long, with the town bars opening early in the morning and providing free entertainment.
Another part of the celebrations is the “Paczki Challenge.” The eating contest requires participants to race from one side of a room while eating as many paczki as they can before reaching the other side. The person to get to the other side first and to eat the most paczkis wins.
On February 21st, the celebrations begin in Hamtramck. From 11 AM to 3 PM, there will be free paczki, Polka music, Polish dancers, a Paczki toss game and a new event: the First Annual Paczki Express Bakery Bus Tour. During the Festival there will also be a Paczki Day Bake-Off. On the 24th, the entire day is spent celebrating the paczki. Bakeries will have all-day sales of paczki and the bar crawls and live music will start in the morning.
Here are some recipes for paczki.
So whether you’re Polish or not, get out your cooking utensils and celebrate Fat Tuesday with the paczki!
Hamtramck, Michigan Official Website
Paczki, Fried Dough Around the World
Paczki Day, Polish American Journal
You Ate That Paczki, So Now What?, Click On Detroit