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Hundreds of people gobbled up traditional Polish pastries Sunday while watching the Polish Heritage Dancers perform in a pre-Fat Tuesday gathering that has become a popular reminder of Buffalo’s strong Polish culture.

Of course, the main attraction at the fundraiser for the Polish Heritage Dancers was paczki, the deep-fried, doughnut-like spheres usually filled with jams and jellies.

There was also plenty of chrusciki, the light fried cookies topped with powdered sugar, and a host of savory traditional foods set out at the Hearthstone Manor in Depew. But the day was really about paczki – it’s called Paczki Day – which are eaten in a spirit of celebration before the more somber Lenten fast begins.

“It’s the last hurrah before Lent,” said Robert Giczkowski, youth coordinator for the Polish National Catholic Church in Lancaster.

The 30 members of the Polish Heritage Dancers, who are based at the Holy Mother of the Rosary Cathedral in Lancaster, keep alive in Western New York the traditional dance, costumes and music associated with Poland.

That means polka, lots of it.

The group of children, young adults and older adults offered a number of dances set to the bouncy, upbeat sound that defines polka.

Michelle Kisluk, director of the dance group, recalls how 16 years ago the fundraiser started with a small gathering in a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Buffalo.

“We’ve tried to create a family atmosphere. I just wish more young people would get in touch with their Polish culture,” Kisluk said.

If attendance is any indication, her wish may be coming true. The event Sunday was mobbed by early afternoon, and she expected as many as 800 people to attend between 1 and 7 p.m., many of them friends and relatives of the dancers.

In addition to traditional food, dance and music, there were other signs of Polish heritage.

In the lobby, CDs of Polish music were for sale, as were CDs of koledy, or carols, and music for an oczepiny, the name of the Polish capping ceremony in a wedding. There were copies of the Polish American Journal and tables full of Polish Heritage Dancers sweatshirts.

Later in the day, there were plans to crown a paczki king, queen, prince and princess, Kisluk said.

Giczkowski was manning the table where paczki were lined up in neat rows. Sales was pretty good throughout the day, he said.

“This is the sweet you’re supposed to give up for Lent,” he said.

email: hdavis@buffnews.com