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Penn Dutch Folklore: Easter


"Fasnacht Day," more properly called "Fastnacht," is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. This was the established beginning of the 40 days of fasting during Lent. It is a folk tradition dating to the Middle Ages, a Catholic custom that has survived in Protestant Pennsylvania.

On Monday, dough was put out in straw baskets for raising, then cut in squares and deep-fried in fat, not baked. Served with hot coffee at breakfast, the popular way to eat them was to split them in half and spread with honey. (Today they often come coated with confectioners’ sugar.)

In the old days, this was a chance for everyone to gorge on good doughnuts without reprise, for the lean days would now follow. And the proverbial "dunker" could dunk doughnuts to his stomach’s content. The making of fasnachts helped use up fat and sugar prior to fasting.

"Gruna Dunaschdawk," to those well-versed in Pennsylvania German folklore, means Green Thursday, the day before Good Friday. It was an occasion to eat something green to insure good health for the coming year.

"Kaofreidawk," or Good Friday, immediately following Green Thursday, had an even deeper religious significance. While others of her household were at church, the good "haus frau" (housewife) undertook the time-honored task of boiling and decorating many eggs. When dyes were unavailable, eggs were colored by immersing them in boiling water in which onion skins had been placed. Mother would also prepare the many table courses of food for the breaking of the fast on Easter morning.

Adapted from the booklet PENNSYLVANIA DUTCHLAND by Robert Lash Robbins and Ralph R. Smith, and other sources.

Amish Country News Feature Article (Spring 2001)


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