Many people know that Mardi Gras in French means "Fat Tuesday" and that it's the only time a year the delectable Polish pączki (pronounced pownch-key) is front and center at almost all supermarkets. How'd they come about? What do they mean? And are they connected?
Mardi Gras can be traced back to medieval Europe.
Mardi Gras is the last day to indulge in glutenous foods before the 40 days of Lent. It's a Christian holiday that is the day before the religious season of Lent begins. Traditionally people would eat all the rich and fatty foods in anticipation of Lent - a time lasting several weeks consisting of fasting and eating only fish.
In 1699, French explorers discovered land about near what is now-known as New Orleans. They landed the day before Mardi Gras, named it "Pointe du Mardi Gras," and held a small Mardi Gras celebration. The next couple decades later, other settlements were made and the traditions continued.
Throughout the years different traditions started. Mardi Gras parades started in the 1730s in New Orleans but they were not like we know them now. In the early 1740s, the elegant balls began. 1781 was the first reference to Mardi Gras being dubbed a Carnival. By the late 1830s the parades included carriages, horseback riders, maskers, and gaslight torches. In 1872 the honorable Roman Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff attended and to honor him, the Carnival's official event colors were his family's colors: purple for justice, gold for power, and green for faith. In 1875 the Louisiana governor made Mardi Gras an official legal holiday for the State.
Although the official date of Mardi Gras is just one day, the event has evolved into a week long event of festivities.
So what about the Polish pączki?
A pączki is a Polish delectable dessert that is similar to a donut. They are sweet, very rich, yeasty fried dough like a donut with no hole in the center, are typically filled with jam, and topped with powdered sugar. Traditionally, the Polish people would use use up their lard, eggs, sugar, and fruits before Lent, so they'd make these glutenous sweets with those last bit of ingredients. They'd especially eat these on "Fat Thursday," the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. In the United States, Mardi Gras is also dubbed as Pączki Day.
So why not celebrate both Mardi Gras and Pączki Day by grabbing a mask donned in gold, purple, and green while eating a pączki?!