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Fastnacht Day: Schuylkill County’s Answer to Mardi Gras

In these parts, many of us call it Donut Day.

Fastnacht Day is a time-honored tradition celebrated in Pennsylvania Dutch communities.

You could call it Schuylkill County’s answer to Mardi Gras.

This festive occasion falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent. Also known as “Fat Tuesday” or “Mardi Gras,” Fastnacht Day is a day to indulge in sweet treats and revel in the joys of community and tradition.

What is Fastnacht Day?

Fastnacht Day is a traditional celebration that originated in Germany and was brought to Pennsylvania by German immigrants in the 1700s. The term “Fastnacht” is derived from the German words “fasten” (to fast) and “nacht” (night), indicating the eve of the fast.

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The celebration of Fastnacht Day is deeply rooted in Pennsylvania Dutch culture, with many families passing down recipes and traditions from generation to generation.

What are the traditional foods associated with Fastnacht Day?

One of the most iconic aspects of Fastnacht Day is the tradition of eating “fastnachts.” These are square-shaped doughnuts – traditionally made from potato dough – with other simple ingredients such as flour, milk, sugar, and yeast. They are often deep-fried in lard or oil, giving them a crisp exterior and a fluffy interior.

These doughnuts are traditionally eaten for breakfast on Fastnacht Day, with some families even starting the day by making them together.

Fastnachts are sold by local bakeries, churches, and fire companies in Schuylkill County with proceeds going to charitable causes.

What’s the difference between a fastnacht and a donut?

Fastnachts and donuts may look similar, but there are a few key differences between the two.

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Ingredients: Fastnachts are typically made with simpler ingredients such as flour, yeast, milk, and sugar. They are often fried in lard, giving them a unique flavor and texture. Donuts, on the other hand, typically contain more ingredients, such as eggs, butter, and baking powder. They are usually fried in oil or baked.

Shape: Fastnachts are square-shaped, while donuts are typically round with a hole in the center.

Texture: Fastnachts are denser and chewier than donuts, which are usually lighter and fluffier.

Purpose: Fastnachts are traditionally eaten on Fastnacht Day, the day before Lent begins, as a way of using up rich ingredients before the period of fasting. Donuts, on the other hand, are a more common treat that can be enjoyed at any time of the year.

Overall, while there are similarities between fastnachts and donuts, the differences in ingredients, shape, texture, and purpose make them distinct from one another.

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What are the customs and festivities associated with the holiday?

Fastnacht Day is a day of community and celebration.

One popular traditional custom is the “fastnacht fressen,” which involves eating as many fastnachts as possible in one sitting.

Fastnacht Day is also a time for charitable giving, with many communities using the occasion to raise funds for local organizations and causes.

Fastnacht Day is a beloved tradition in Pennsylvania Dutch communities, representing a time to come together and celebrate the joys of community, tradition, and good food. This annual occasion is a testament to the enduring power of cultural heritage and the importance of passing down traditions from generation to generation.

Photo: Andrew Bossi, CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

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