Paczki Day

Today being one week previous to Fat Tuesday, I’ve suddenly found myself caught up in a warm childhood memory.


My ethnic heritage is Polish, and my religious tradition is Roman Catholic.  For those unfamiliar, in the Roman Catholic faith, the season of Lent is traditionally a time of self sacrifice and reflection during the 40 days preceding the Easter celebration.  The season officially begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at 3:00 p.m. on Good Friday.  The day previous to the beginning of Lent is known in many Latin based cultures as “Fat Tuesday” or Mardi Gras.  Mardi Gras is a celebration of earthly vice and base excess that encourages bawdy behavior before the lean and solemn season of Lent begins.  In the Polish tradition of my ancestors, Fat Tuesday is known as “Paczki Day.”  As I understand it, the tradition took root in the gathering up of fat and sweets to be consumed before they are forbidden during Lent. 


Paczki (pronounced ****-chky / singular ****-check) are really nothing more than jelly filled doughnuts on steroids.  However, proper down-home paczki are approximate in size to a softball and weigh about twice as much.  They are fried in lard to a deep mahogany hue, filled with a variety of preserves – prune and raspberry being amoung my favorites – and are coated with icing much like that on a glazed doughnut, only scalier.  Recently, there has been a resurgence in Paczki Day around this state. So much so that the grocery store in this small and oh-so-not-Polish town currently has red and white boxes of “paczki” on the shelves.  One look at those and I turn up my paczki-pretentious nose in disapproval.  Those aren’t paczki – they are hockey pucks posing as jelly doughnuts.


Anyway, when I was a kid attending Catholic school, I always received a fresh delicious raspberry paczki wrapped in wax paper  held fast with a rubber band in my neatly folded brown-bag lunch on Paczki Day.  In the wee hours of Fat Tuesday, my Grandpa K would make his way to the head of the line at Superior Bakery and pick up a great big load of paczki.  Grandma K would make sure that he delivered some to our home prior to our leaving for school.


Sitting at a long lunch table in the basement of our parish school, dressed in required uniform, with legs not quite long enough for my feet to touch the ground, I felt proud and lucky to have a fresh, delicious, and authentic piece of my heritage lovingly given to me by those who paved the way for my being.


juan1966 juan1966
46-50, M
5 Responses Feb 17, 2009

No paczki for me yesterday. <br />
What is available around here is very un-traditional, and I decided to take a pass.<br />
I did have some kielbasa and kraut for dinner though.

So, are you suffering a paczki hangover today?! I used to work at a place where the receptionist would bring in boxes of them every Fat Tuesday. They were the traditional ones, very heavy! She even continued to bring them in after she retired. My favorite ones are the raspberry and the custard. I miss pierogi too. I have managed to find a good sour kraut, Polish of course. Now I'm getting home sick again!

hee hee<br />

Thank you for that perspective Datura. I've never much imagined walking in Grandpa K's shoes. However, your suggestion has triggered a flood of memories:<BR><BR>Considering the season and the time fr<x>ame, Grandpa K would have been in his off season from work. He was the proprietor of a small resort for boaters in the Flats. During the winter months, the resort was closed, and the ice flows on the river often prevented ferry travel to and from the island on which it was located. <BR>He was always one to wake very early, and retire late. He did nap each and every day in the afternoon.<BR><BR>I imagine that when he arrived at our home, he was driving a red Ford LTD. He would have been wearing a charcoal grey overcoat and a lighter grey fidora. It was his habit to also bring meat for our freezer. His buddy Scotty was the manager of the A&P, and often secured good deals on quantities of meat for Grandpa K. Having been to Superior Bakery, I'm confident there would have been a fresh loaf of rye bread to accompany the white box tied with a string filled with paczki.<BR><BR>Had he decided to stay for coffee, he would sit at the end of the table, drinking it black from a small glass jelly jar as was his way. ARound him would have been a cloud of blue smoke streaming in curls from a lit Bel-Air resting in a small square green glass ashtray that my mother would bring out when he visited.

As you tell your memories of this wonderful family tradition, I mentally picture your grandpa K's memories and feelings about it as well. Rising so early to get to the bakery, anticipating the aroma of fresh baked paczki that he would lovingly deliver to the homes of his family. Knowing his early errand would result in his grandson having a special treat at school on this important date on the religious calendar. <br />
<br />
Tradition is such a wonderful thing. Family traditions stay in our hearts forever and help to shape the people we become.