Fasnachts March 9, 1943
H.R. Keplinger, of Lancaster, is a keen student of symbols and the myths which underlie them. Several years ago he turned his attention to the fasnacht, or fat cake, that makes its appearance annually, on Shrove Tuesday, at the beginning of the Lenten season. Remember the old saying in your home “Der letscht aus em Bett is der Fasnacht heit?” The delicacy and the folklore connected with the day are both distinctly Pennsylvania Dutch. The English serve hot cross buns on Good Friday. The underlying myths giving origin to these customs are very much alike.
“Why is the fasnacht round, with a hole in the center” asks Keplinger. He finds an answer in Smith’s Classical Dictionary. The form of the cake is the ancient symbol of the sun.
“Why is it fried in lard?” From the same source Keplinger shows the boar, or wild pig, was the ancient’s symbol for winter. In mythology Adonis, representing the sun was killed by a boar representing winter. Venus, Adonis’ mate, lamented the loss of her companion until summer once again restored Adonis to life. The end of the winter solstice therefore marked the triumph of the sun over the boar, winter, and the doughnut, the product of the grain fields, was fried in the fat of the boar to seal the triumph.
“Why, at the beginning of the Lenten season?” Kepligner asked himself. Because the sun regains his revivifying power at the “time of the lengthening of the days,” which corresponds to our Lenten season.
We submit Keplinger’s conclusions and deductions for the perusal of our readers. His ideas are at variance with the traditional concepts of the origin of the fasnacht. The name itself implies something else. In English it would be a night of fasting. We will welcome the suggestions of readers.
Archival Notes: While the recipe for making fasnachts is simple, there is great variation in the customs of making fasnachts. Culture and customs are fluid changing with each generation as they add their mark to their traditions, or with their passing their knowledge is lost. While the debates will rage on about the proper preparation and production of fasnachts, as long as they are delicious we can all enjoy them.