There are so many names for this day: Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, or as it was when I grew up, “the day Gramma made doughnuts.” In fact, it was one specific doughnut…the fashnacht…that was a staple this time of year in the bakeries near the Pennsylvania-New York border. My family had German heritage in our mix, and the German and Pennsylvania Dutch influences featured heavily in our community and family traditions. I didn’t really make the connection between fried, flat dough and the coming of Lent until much later. But fashnachts were a perennial favorite, whether or not connected with religious observance.
I recall one time…whether it was Fat Tuesday or not, I’m not sure…when my Gramma’s country kitchen was filled to overflowing with doughnuts. The fry cakes were hot, crisp on the outside and delightfully doughy. I would stand at her counter and cut round shapes with double cutters that allowed each round to have a doughnut, and a hole, to fry. Then, I would clandestinely visit the kitchen “on my way to the bathroom” and sneak one after another as they cooled after frying. I remember her chuckling and pretending not to notice my bulging cheeks.
My Gramma’s doughnuts were braids, twists, “long-johns” as well as traditional rounds and holes. Fashnachts were a specific shape: square and flat, and punched down in the middle, which would fry up crisp while the edges remained chewy and doughy. My mother would rave about her own aunts and great aunts making them. It was a decadent tradition, and I was always happy to visit and indulge on donut day.
This morning, I was thinking about fashnachts, so I woke up early and attempted my own fashnacht making experiment. We have snowy weather again, and the University was on delay. It seemed like the perfect day to make the attempt. I raised up some dough, heated up just enough oil to drop two at a time into my pan, then sprinkled the hot dough with cinnamon sugar and powdered sugar, all before my daughter woke from her snow-day sleep in. I was thinking of my Gramma the whole time, one of the many women who cooked and made special this celebratory day before a shift back to daily routines of the coming of spring, and perhaps an even more stoic and serious season of Lenten observance. These traditions still mark the seasons of our lives.
I enjoyed my fashnacht this morning; mine were not as good as my Gramma’s original, but it was still a delicious walk down memory lane. I am in a state of preparation for the next season, too. I may have a little indulgence today, but my spirit is actually craving the transition to Lent, starting with Ash Wednesday tomorrow.
So, on this Fat Tuesday as I eat my fashnachts, I ponder what is coming next. I know that I will be “Cultivating Sacred Space” in virtual community this lent, and this blog will follow that journey, too. I won’t be giving up anything in particular, but I will be moving into a time where my first priority is cultivating space for the sacred in my days and listening in stillness to better understand the paths that are unfolding in my life. It is a reflective journey during a season where we prepare for growth, shedding what no longer serves us to make room for rebirth. I hope all who read this blog will consider cultivating that sacred space with me.
Sometimes, like this Fat Tuesday, I picture the divine spirit of grace as rather like my Gramma…preparing a whole banquet that is spread out before me and chuckling as I sneak my little doughnut holes, as if saying to me with a twinkle of the eye, “don’t you see…all this is for you!”
May we find the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the hands to serve throughout the coming season.