Pączki Day: A Polish tradition becomes an American tradition

A most popular Polish-American tradition is celebrated on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

In Polish culture Pączki Day (Punch-key) is a once-a-year event and is only celebrated on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.

People will ask for pączkis not realizing that pączki is already the plural of pączek (Punch-ek). Pączki are very rich donuts, deep fried and then filled with fruit or cream filling and covered with powdered sugar or icing. Traditionally, Lent was 40 days of fasting; meaning one meal a day and full fasting on Friday. Any rich foods were not allowed. The Tuesday before lent, people of Poland used up food so that it would not be spoiled or wasted. Families would use up their eggs, butter and sugar and fruit by treating themselves one last time before Lent began with these rich donuts. This tradition was started in the medieval age during the reign of August III.

In the United States Paczki Day was always popular in the Polish communities from the beginning of the 20th century. Polish immigrants settled in different parts of the U.S., such as Detroit, Baltimore, Grand Rapids, Saginaw, Chicago, Buffalo and especially Hamtramck, where the Polish bakeries would have Pączki for sale on Fat Tuesday morning. In smaller communities it was the local Polish Parish that came together to make and sell Pączki.

Recently, Pączki Day has expanded as more people have heard about this Polish tradition and want to become a part of this tasty holiday. Paczki can be found up to a month before Fat Tuesday in almost every food store: Deli, grocery and bakery. People just cannot pass up a delicious food holiday and Pączki Day can be considered one of the best.

This summer Michigan 4-H will be hosting 20 Polish youth and their Chaperons for a month. Sharing cultures is a top priority of this exchange and Pączki Day is a cultural event that can be shared by both. How it is currently celebrated in Poland and how the same celebration has evolved in the United States would be an interesting and educational conversation; plus a chance to share delicious Pączki recipes. You can find out more about hosting these youth and their Chairpersons on the Michigan 4-H website or contact your local Michigan State University Extension office.

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