Paczki Day

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Paczki Day

Fat Thursday, Tlusty Czwartek

In past times Poles observed a fast which prohibited the consumption of butter and lard throughout the forty days of Lent. They celebrated Zapusty, or Carnival, in the last few days before Lent, indulging in rich, buttery foods that would soon be off limits and engaging in all sorts of amusements thought to be out of keeping with the solemn spirit of Lent. One type of pastry in particular, a large jelly-filled donut called paczki, became a holiday favorite. Making paczki served as a means of using up the last remnants of soon-to-be-forbidden foods. Eventually these sweet treats came to be seen as emblematic of the joyful excesses of the last days of Carnival.

In Poland people eat paczki on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. They call this day Tlusty Czwartek, or Fat Thursday (for more on Fat Thursday, see also Shrovetide). In past times people also celebrated the day with parties and masked balls.

Polish Americans uphold the custom of eating paczki in preparation for Lent. They celebrate Paczki Day on the last day of Carnival, however. The pastries are widely available in Polish-American bakeries on that day, and may even be found in supermarkets in areas that boast large Polish-American populations. Polka dances may also be organized in celebration of Paczki Day.

In past times Polish Carnival celebrations included some very boisterous customs. On Shrove Tuesday, the last day of Carnival, some people waited by the church doors to catch those young adults of marriageable age who had not yet found a spouse. They tried to pin a smelly, unattractive bit of garbage, such as a chicken foot or a herring skeleton, to their backs without them knowing it. Sometimes they also pinned rude verses to their clothing making fun of their failure to find a mate. Another old Shrove Tuesday custom encouraged young men to round up a bunch of young women and hold a mock livestock auction. Before bidding on the women, the men examined their eyes and teeth, just as they would do before buying cattle. Lively and humorous banter accompanied this event. At Easter time the young women were expected to reward those who had bid for them with a gift of Easter eggs. If no one bid on her, a girl considered herself disgraced. In another old Shrove Tuesday custom husbands and wives gathered in local taverns to watch the women dance. The higher the women leaped, the higher the hemp crops would grow. If a man thought his wife could leap higher, he bought her another mug of beer and asked to her to dance some more. In some places Poles constructed a straw figure named Marzanna, who represented winter, and drowned her on Shrove Tuesday. In other places this event took place during the first half of Lent, often on Laetare Sunday.

For more on Easter in Poland, see also Poland, Easter and Holy Week in

Further Reading

Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter the World Over. Philadelphia, PA: Chilton Book Company, 1971. Nowakowski, Jacek, and Marlene Perrin. Polish Touches. Iowa City, IA: Penfield Press, 1996. Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1990.

Web Sites

"Paczki Day," a page on the Polish Easter Traditions web site, posted by Dr. Ann Hetzel Gunkel, a professor of philosophy and cultural studies at Columbia College in Chicago: "Paczki Day," a brief article on Paczki Day that includes recipes, posted at the Polish-American Journal's web site at:
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002

Paczki Day

Thursday before Lent in Poland; Tuesday before Lent in the United States
Paczki Day is a day in early to mid February in Poland and the United States on which a rich, jelly- or crÅme-filled doughnut is traditionally eaten in anticipation of the 40 days of fasting required during the religious season of Lent. In Poland, the observance of Paczki Day is known as Thusty Czwartek, or Fat Thursday; in the United States, Polish-Americans celebrate Paczki Day on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, which signals the beginning of Lent. Since at least the Middle Ages, consuming butter or lard was prohibited during the observance of Lent in Poland. In the final days before the fast began, households traditionally used up their stores of these products by preparing rich foods such as cakes and pastries. Paczki are made of dense, rich dough that is deep-fried and may be filled with fruit-flavored jam or crÅme; they are often glazed or coated with powdered sugar.
In the United States, areas with large Polish-American populations—such as Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit—have widely adopted the custom of eating paczki in the days prior to the start of Lent, with many Polish neighborhoods taking on a festival atmosphere as patrons flock to ethnic bakeries for authentic paczki. In the largely Polish-American community of Hamtramck, Michigan, free, continuous entertainment is provided throughout the day, an annual paczki-eating contest is held, and radio stations broadcast live from the scene. Throughout the community, bars open as early as 7:00 am on Paczki Day and offer traditional Polish cuisine, including pierogi, golumpki, and kielbasa; in addition, many serve specialty items including "paczki shots" or liquor-filled paczki.
Embassy of The Republic of Poland
2640 16th St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009
City of Hamtramck, Michigan
3401 Evaline
Hamtramck, MI 48212
EncyEaster-2002, p. 426
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.