If ever there was an excuse to load up on sweet treats and take indulgent eating to the next level, Fat Thursday is the holiday you need!
A celebration of all things dough-related, this tradition originated in Poland offers a guilt-free opportunity to gorge on doughnuts or “pączki”, traditional fried delicacies that contain rose jam.
The idea behind Fat Thursday, traditionally the last Thursday before Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), is treating the taste buds and enjoying the flavor of rich, delicious foods before Lent, the six weeks of penitence before Easter, begins.
Lent, in fact, is a time that many people choose to cut out certain foods or alcohol, for example.
And there’s nothing like a fast to get us all thinking about food, especially those forbidden treats loaded with calorific goodness!
If donuts were the first thing that came to mind, then you’re right on track because this holiday is about stuffing your face with pączki and not only.
In Polish, Fat Thursday is known as Tlusty Czwartek.
Although the exact origin of how this holiday came to be founded is unknown, the Polish tradition of consuming donuts is very much known, and dates as far back as the 1500s.
Although the focus of the celebration hasn’t shifted throughout the ages, notes from history suggest that the recipe has evolved, and it seems that the contemporary pączki was a marked improvement on the baked goods of old, that could have done some damage in case of a direct hit to your face.
Or a black eye, at best.
Back then pączki were known as kreple, from German Krapfen and, in the 18th century, historian Jędrzej Kitowicz, author of the fascinating treaty Description of Customs during the Reign of August III, described modern doughnuts eaten at the court as fluffy and light, comparing them to the old-fashioned ones.
While Fat Thursday is often thought of as a means of treating oneself and indulging prior to a period of abstinence during Lent, in Poland the act of eating doughnuts is also believed to bring good luck.
History suggests also that those who refuse these sugar-coated, doughy delights face a run of misfortune!
There are in fact several proverbs and idioms about pączki, the best known of which is “live like a doughnut in butter”, meaning to live in clover.
Another, far less known, is the warning: “those who don’t eat a stack of pączki on Fat Thursday will have an empty barn and their field destroyed by mice”.
The most traditional form of pączki is a light, fluffy donut filled with rosehip jam and dusted with powdered sugar, but today there’s a variety of fillings including sweet, smooth vanilla custard, zingy strawberry jam, and also chocolate ganache.
There’s scope for a degree of creativity when it comes to crafting modern versions of traditional recipe, but all respectable chefs must comply with one request: every doughnut should be light and fluffy, as nobody wants to create (and eat) something reminiscent of a medieval weapon.
The only way to celebrate Fat Thursday is to make like the Poles: take a trip to the bakery!
Some even refer to this day as International Polish Donut Day, and not by chance the average Pole will eat around 2-3 donuts on this day, which translates to about 1050 calories (if you’re counting…but we’re not), which constitutes a whopping 100 million for the entire nation. Another traditional Polish dessert that is extremely popular on this day is faworki, in some places also known as Angel Wings, thin dough ribbons, fried until crispy and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
In Germany, known as Weiberfastnacht, or Silly Thursday, this celebration is in the true carnival spirit, in which businesses shut at 11:11 am and people dress up and take to the streets to frolic and eat together.
In Greece, Fat Thursday is also known as Tsiknopempti and carnivores can rejoice because it’s all about meat!
In Catalonia, Spain, it’s known as Dijous Gra’s, and the carnival period is kick-started with dancing, live orchestras, and fatty street foods like “botifarra” sausages and sweet cakes.
Known as Bulludagur and roughly translates to “bun day”, in Iceland it is celebrated on the Sunday and Monday before Lent, and the specialty of the day is sweet cream buns, filled with jam and topped with chocolate!
In any case, with most people making a concerted effort to eat healthily, Fat Thursday offers the perfect excuse to enjoy a treat day and celebrate a much-loved treat that has delighted crowds throughout the ages.
And eating doughnuts is not just a means of satisfying the stomach before Lent as, according to folklore, stocking up on these delights is also bound to bring good luck.
Moreover, all of Poland would certainly tell you to think twice before you turn one down, if you don’t want to find your fields barren and your barns empty.
What’s not to like?
Images from web – Google Research