Depending on where you grew up and what Christian customs you are familiar with, you may or may not have heard of Fat Tuesday and/or paczkis. Like many in the USA, you may automatically associate Fat Tuesday with colorful visions of New Orleans and festive, wild Mardi Gras celebrations. However, you don’t just need to be in New Orleans to celebrate Fat Tuesday.
Mardi Gras, in fact, literally means Fat Tuesday in French. Even though Mardi Gras can sometimes be referred to as a whole festive season, it really refers to the singular day of Fat Tuesday. The build-up to Fat Tuesday can also be referred to various carnival festivals in different parts of the world.
What is Fat Tuesday?
Fat Tuesday is a general term used for the day before Ash Wednesday—the start of Lent. Traditionally, it was considered the “last” day to indulge in sweets and pleasurable foods before giving these up for Lent period. Hence the name Fat! As you can imagine, people can go all out with Fat Tuesday, enjoying rich foods as much as they can before they started fasting these rich foods.
Nowadays, many people still “indulge” in Fat Tuesday even if they are not going to follow through with Lent fasting.
Fat Tuesday leads to Paczkis
This is where the paczkis (pronounced poonch- keys) come into play with the build-up to Easter. The term paczki is a Polish word for fried dough with a sweet filling. These donut type treats were traditionally made for Fat Tuesday to use up the last of the lard and sugar before the lent season.
When Polish immigrants fled to the US, they brought with them the tradition of making paczkis for Fat Tuesday. Parts of the country with high Polish immigrant communities like Detroit, Chicago and other Midwest regions to this day have a strong following of eating packzis on Fat Tuesday whether they follow Lent or not.
Most bakeries and donut shops will make paczkis for Fat Tuesday even if they are not traditionally Polish. People will gladly wait in line for hours on Fat Tuesday to enjoy these special sweet treats. Even well before Fat Tuesday, you may see bakeries selling paczkis days or weeks ahead of time.
Paczkis can have a cult-like following. In the Detroit area, there is even a 5k called Paczki Run the Saturday before Fat Tuesday starts! The course winds through Hammtramck which was home to many traditional Polish bakeries in the Detroit area. At the finish line is—you guessed it—a paczki waiting for you.
When is Fat Tuesday?
Lent is considered the 46 day time period before Easter. Therefore, as the date of Easter is different every year depending on the cycles of the moon, the date for Fat Tuesday varies year to year. However, Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) is always 47 days before Easter. So for 2019, Fat Tuesday falls on Tuesday, March 5th which is 47 days before Easter on April 21st.
Fat Tuesday leads to Lent
So you have indulged in some paczkis and maybe some other high-calorie foods on Fat Tuesday. Now what? Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, starts the day after Fat Tuesday.
Lent is technically considered a 40-day fasting period. So why does Lent really start 46 days before Easter? Sundays basically don’t count when counting 40 days of fasting. Therefore, the 6 Sundays that are during the Lent period aren’t considered part of the 40 day fast.
Lent season has different meanings for people, but it usually involves some form of fasting or giving up festivities in remembrance of Jesus’ death on the cross and the suffering he endured for 40 days in the wilderness. Catholics do not eat any meat on Fridays, except fish, during Lent. However, if you are not Catholic, you may still eat meat during Lent while fasting from other foods or items.
Lent leads to Easter
Many people give up something that is, for them, a sacrifice during Lent. This could be: sweets, other foods you love or even non-food items like social media. Instead of eating or spending time with these things during Lent, maybe use that time to read the Bible, pray, etc.
The whole idea for Lent is to use your time as a reflection upon Christ’s journey to the cross. Some may advocate Lent needs to be done in a certain manner with certain rules in place. However, some Christians believe Lent is more a personal reflection and fasting period to guide you closer to Him throughout these 46 days leading up to Easter.
The whole point, whatever form you partake in Fat Tuesday, paczkis and/or Lent, is not how closely you can follow the “rules” but rather the how it can guide your heart closer to Him during this season.