Fasnacht Day: Putting the 'fat' in Fat Tuesday in central Pa.

Written by David Payne/Radio Pennsylvania | Feb 13, 2018 9:25 AM

FILE PHOTO: Volunteers at St. Cecilia's made fasnachts on Monday Feb. 8, 2016. Jeremy Long, Jeremy Long, Lebanon Daily News

(Bird-in-Hand) -- Today is the day before the start of Lent and it's is known as "Fat Tuesday" for those planning Mardi Gras celebrations.

But another type of Fat Tuesday is unique to central Pennsylvania -- Fasnacht Day.

The Pennsylvania Dutch tradition dates back to Swiss-German immigrants who came to the U.S. in the 1700s.

Ash Wednesday brings along with it an emphasis on plain foods, so the confection is a way for folks to use up all their lard and sugar before Lent. 

"Housewives would get all of the fat and sugars out of the house for Lent in preparation for Easter," says Ken Bennett of the the Bird-In-Hand Bakery in Lancaster County. "The way they would do that is by using up all of the fat and the sugar by making Fasnachts." 

Bennett says the business expects to bake about 150 dozen of the treats.

He says the day has turned into a major event for businesses and annual fundraisers for churches --especially in areas with a strong Pennsylvania Dutch tradition like Lebanon and Lancaster counties.

"It has definitely evolved past people actually observing the holiday. It has really only been commercialized in the last 40 years or so," Bennett says. "But, the popularity of it never waned."

The tradition calls for people to spend much of the day using all the sugar, fat and eggs in their homes, making them into treats known as Fasnachts.

The word translates into "Night Before the Fast."

Other cultures have similar sweet traditions the day before Lent. In parts of the U.S. with large Polish communities, Shrove Tuesday is celebrated with filled doughnuts called paczki. And it's Pancake Day in England. 

*The Associated Press contributed to this story.*

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