While everyone is down in New Orleans partying at Mardi Gras, and Europeans are indulging in Carnival, Poles all over the United States are celebrating Paczki Day! (Pronounced: punch-key day)
Traditionally, the reason for making paczki has been to use up all the lard, sugar, eggs and fruit in the house, which are forbidden during Lent. They are eaten especially on Fat Thursday, the last Thursday before Lent (Polish: Tlusty czwartek, not to be confused with Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday). In Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Hamtramck, Milwaukee, and South Bend Paczki Day is more commonly celebrated on Fat Tuesday instead of Fat Thursday. Chicago celebrates both Fat Thursday & Fat Tuesday, partially due to its sizeable Polish population.
Although they look like Bismarcks or jelly-filled pastries, Paczki are made from especially rich dough containing eggs, fats, sugar and sometimes milk. They feature a variety of fruit and crème fillings and can be glazed, or covered with granulated or powdered sugar. These pastries have become popular in the United States as a result of Polish immigrants and marketing by the bakery industry. They are prepared exclusively in preparation for Lent and are hugely popular in many parts of the country. In Hamtramck, an enclave in Detroit, there is an annual Paczki-Day (Fat Tuesday) Parade, and lines at bakeries can be seen up to 24 hours before the deep-fried delights go on sale Tuesday morning. Many bars in town open early in the morning, and provide free entertainment, a party atmosphere, Paczki-clad mascots, and at at least one bar, Paczki filled with Jagermeister. The Paczki-Day celebration in this town is even larger than many areas have for St. Patrick’s Day. Prunes are considered the traditional filling, but many others are used as well, including lemon, strawberry, Bavarian cream, blueberry, custard, raspberry, and rarely apple. Due to French influence, paczki are eaten on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) rather than on Fat Thursday. In the large Polish community of Chicago, and other large cities across the Midwest, paczki day is also celebrated annually by immigrants and locals alike.
Another cultural phenomenon is the emergence of the “Paczki Challenge.” A eating contest in which individuals attempt to race from one side of a room (non – standard) while eating as much or as many Paczki as they can before reaching the other side. The person to reach first and having eaten the most Paczkis wins. Typically a ratio of 1 Paczki for every 10 steps is considered competitive.
Okay, it’s not as, um, exotic as Mardi Gras or Carnival, but it’s my Polish heritage!
(Above information about Paczki Day from: Wikipedia)