French Mardi Gras, English Shrove Tuesday and Polish Fat Thursday all belong to the same tradition of the last indulgence before Lent. Tłusty Czwartek [twu-sti chfar-tek] is the last Thursday before Lent and marks the start of the final week of Carnival (period of celebrations and parties, which lasts from 6th of January to Ash Wednesday). In Polish, it’s known as zapusty [za-pus-ti] or ostatki [os-tat-ki].
Lent is the time of penitence, abstinence, of giving things up and is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities. Giving up foods – meat, fats, eggs – does not mean wasting them and Fat Thursday is the last chance to indulge, and to use up the foods that are not allowed in Lent.
There is nothing somber or reflective about Fat Thursday in Poland and the only thing that comes close to penitence is standing in long queues outside cukiernia (patisserie) or piekarnia (bakery) to get your hands on fresh delicious doughnuts. The alternative however to not eating a doughnut is to have bad luck for the rest of the year. No contest!
Tłusty Czwartek has a long and strong tradition in Poland which stretches back to the 17th century. In the past, the delicacies of the day were savoury and were made out bread dough stuffed with bacon and fried in lard. They were so heavy that dropping them risked causing injury.
The flavour of Tłusty Czwartek has changed slowly and around the 19th century it became more sweet. Today, the main celebrations are around feasting on pączki (doughnuts) and faworki (delicate crisp pastries known in English as angel wings).
The word pączek [pon-chek], or plural pączki [pon-chki], has two meanings in Polish – buds (as on trees or shrubs in spring) and doughnuts, which were called that as they resembled the former.
Faworki [fa-vor-ki] – usually used in its plural form – are sweet crisp pastry made out of dough in the shape of twisted ribbons deep-fried and sprinkled with icing sugar. The name faworki is taken from French faveur (grace) and is related in Polish to the word faworyt – a person who is favoured. In the past, a faworyt was someone favoured by a King at court and the fact was acknowledged by a ribbon worn by a recipient of the favour. Today the term faworyt is used to describe a person most likely to win a contest, competition or elections.
Faworki – photo by Błażej Pieczyński Creative Commons Generic licence 2.0
In some parts of Poland faworki are known as chrust [hroost] or chruściki [hroosh-chiki]
To keep the tradition alive, on Fat Thursday Poles consume about 100 million doughnuts; on average 2,5 doughnuts per person. At about 400 calories per doughnut, there needs to be serious fasting (and exercising) afterwards.
Search the internet for images and recipes for pączki or faworki. Why not try making them yourself? Faworki are much easier to make than doughnuts. If cooking is not your thing, you can search for a Polish delicatessen in your neighbourhood where you may be able to buy pączki and faworki ready-made.
Make a list of Polish words in this blog post. Notice how they are used. Arrange them in a place where you can see them. Write some examples. Read them aloud.
Try to translate words ‘Lent’ and ‘fasting’ and find out what they have in common with sending letters.