I remember one time I had to go into Center City for something. And, if I am near it and have time, I always go to Reading Terminal Market. If you’ve never been to Beiler’s, you must go if you are in the city. So I went to RTM and got donuts at Beiler’s and brought them home. And when Brian got home from school, he said, “Is it Fastnacht Day?”
I don’t need an excuse to go to Beilers, but man, I love a good donut. And that’s why I love Fastnacht Day. I’ve actually never had Beiler’s fastnachts, but I imagine that they are good. After all, they were one of the first Amish vendors in the Reading Terminal Market.
I know a lot of Philadelphians talk about Federal Donuts, but for me, it’s Beilers.
Anyway, on to Fastnacht Day. Also spelled Fasnacht Day. Both are correct.
Fastnacht Day History
Fastnacht day is the PA Dutch or German tradition associated with Fat Tuesday. It occurs on Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday.
Because many Christians choose to fast or deny themselves sweets and treats during Lent, it was common to indulge on Fat Tuesday. Fat/Shrove Tuesday is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. To prepare for Lent, many religions emptied their pantries of indulgences like lard and sugar. In using up the supplies, the fastnacht was born.
Fastnacht Day 2023 is Tuesday, February 21.
What is a fastnacht?
A fastnacht is basically a donut. Polish people celebrate paczki day, and it’s really the same donut with a different name.
PA Dutch people are actually not Dutch. They are of German heritage. However, Germany is called Deutschland, and that got whittled down to “Dutch.” Some still call them Pennsylvania Germans.
But the PA Dutch tradition is to use up the flour, sugar and lard in the pantry and make a donut style treat.
A true fastnacht is actually pretty plain. It’s a hole-less donut. And, traditionalists eat them with molasses. They typically are not frosted, iced, or filled. But, you cut them in half and drizzle molasses on them.
Personally, I cannot stand molasses. So I use the day as an excuse to eat regular, Americanized versions of the fastnacht.
Both fasnacht and fastnacht are accepted spellings.
What does fastnacht mean?
Fastnacht literally means night before the fast. As stated above, many Christians choose to do a type of fasting or deprivation for Lent. Or, just for Ash Wednesday. While many Amish, Mennonites and PA Dutch folks celebrate fastnacht day, nothing really happens on Ash Wednesday.
The Amish do celebrate Ascension Day, which is 40 days after Easter.
Where to buy fastnachts
While I’m creating this post, I can’t stop thinking about Beiler’s! But, if you can’t make it to the city, where should you go?
First, it depends on if you want true fastnachts or a regular donut.
In Amish and PA Dutch communities, you can find fastnachts just about everywhere in the days leading up to Fastnacht Day. Many churches and fire companies make and sell them as a fundraiser.
That’s where my dad used to always buy them–his local fire company. The women’s auxiliary would make and sell them.
They were true fastnachts, and you had a choice of plain or sugared.
Look, if I’m going to eat something that unhealthy and calorie-laden, I’m going to enjoy it!
So, I usually hit up the local grocers and buy theirs. Two that are near me are Redner’s and Dutch Way. If I had a reason to be near one, I would definitely hit up Beiler’s. They have several locations.
Happy Fastnacht Day!
It doesn’t matter what you call it–
Any day to eat donuts is a good day!
If you’re looking for a little something to do with the kids, here is a Fastnacht Day Word Search and the answer key.
That is what the Fastnacht Day word search looks like. Here is the free PDF printable if you wish to print and use it.