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It's a Great Day to Be Polish in Detroit

by Lisa Diggs on Feb 16th 2010

Leave it to Detroiters to embrace a holiday built around a doughnut!  Yep, that’s right, Paczki Day (pronounced: Punch-key) is finally here.

The Detroit area, and particularly Hamtramck, a city within the city, is home to a large population of Polish Americans, which is how the holiday got started.  It’s based on Poland’s Tlosky Czwartek or Fat Thursday, which marks the last Thursday before Lent, a Catholic time of fasting.  It’s been said that the tradition began so families wouldn't waste perishable foods during the season and that bakers combined dough, sugar, and flavored jellies to create Paczki.
Here in the United States, the celebration takes place on Fat Tuesday, one day before Catholics observe Ash Wednesday, the official start of the Lenten season.  Although I’ve had the great fortune to visit Poland a few times and have regular contact with relatives there, they do not seem to have the same affinity for paczki, and particularly for Paczki Day as we do.  Yet, as a Polish American growing up here, it has been fun to see this day grow bigger and bigger.
By the time I started my career it had become commonplace for someone to bring paczki into the office to celebrate.  That started conversations about different heritages and religions that are often dangerous territory in work environments, but that help us to understand one another so much more, when we venture down those paths. Best of all, being Polish on Paczki Day, is as cool as being Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.
Bakeries all over the Detroit area are humming this morning. People are standing in line to collect the annual treats while they're warm from the oven, and the media will be out in full force examining the phenomenon. (Though truthfully I think they just enjoy an excuse to eat the kind of stuff that they spend the rest of the year warning us about).      
In Hamtramck, the hub if it all, bars and bakeries will commemorate the holiday with day-long bar crawls, giveaways, traditional Polish food, and with a spirited abandon.
If you’ve never experienced Paczki Day in Hamtramck then you are missing out on one of Detroit’s most unique experiences. It’s our Mardis Gras, so come join the fun, or at least enoy a jelly doughnut.

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