The Pre-Lent Donuts That Inspire Eating Contests In Chicago

The season of Lent is observed by Christian communities throughout the U.S., but few mark the beginning of the season in a way as delicious as Chicago's Polish diaspora. For them, the day before Lent, or Fat Tuesday, is a day reserved for eating as many traditional Polish donuts as they can get their hands on. 

The donuts are known as "pączki," and each bite comes with centuries-long Polish tradition. Fat Tuesday marks the last 24 hours that religious observing Poles would traditionally indulge in sweets, alcohol, or meats for the six-week long period of Lent — and they certainly go out with a bang. On this day, it's considered good luck for the year ahead to eat as many rose, marmalade, and chocolate-filled pączki as possible. Even though Poles in Poland celebrate the day on the Thursday before Lent (known as Tłusty Czwartek), the rest of the tradition has remained intact in the U.S.

Chicago has put its own spin on Fat Tuesday

Chicago is known for doing things its own way, and the city's take on signature Polish foods is no different. In true Chicago fashion, the Polish diaspora of the city has taken the tradition of Fat Tuesday to the next level with the advent of a pączki eating contest.

Hosted by organizations like the Polish Legion of American Veterans and various local bakeries, pączki eating contests held around the city attract crowds of eager donut enthusiasts. The festivities call for competitors to devour as many golden brown, jelly-filled pastries as possible in a predetermined amount of time. To help competitors chow down quicker, one Chicago bakery even provides cups of hot water for donut dunking, enabling participants to eat even faster, per the Chicago Tribune

Several Chicago-area organizations and bakeries, such as Bennison's Bakery, are keeping the beloved Polish tradition alive by holding their own Fat Tuesday pączki eating contests this year, so both veteran and new pączki lovers can get their fill before Lent.