Monday Midwestern Minute: Valentine’s Day Edition

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Valentine’s Day is often decried as a “Hallmark” holiday. Of course the day is much older than Hallmark. However in Ohio and the Midwest we have something much closer to a Hallmark holiday on the third Saturday of October.

Like most holidays that involve giving gifts, Sweetest Day started as day in which one was supposed to remember the less fortunate by giving them sweet things, like candy. Therefore, it might be unjust to credit its inventor, a 1920’s candy maker in Cleveland, of inventing a holiday for profit. However,  nowadays it has moved to an excuse to expect and/or give cards, candies, and plush toys. Indeed, unlike Valentine’s Day, which is accepted as a day for expressing affection with or without gifts (though interesting studies suggest that gift giving is a very important social action associated with bonding and friendship),  Sweetest Day seems to have as its sole purpose the giving of gifts, especially chocolates

The day hasn’t quite caught on beyond the Great Lakes. Indeed, my parents never celebrated it, and it was only from my grandparents that I learned of the holiday. But, just in case, if you’re ever wooing a Great Lakes guy or gal, it might be good to remember this date. At the worst you’ll impress them with your knowledge of mid-American culture.


Midwestern Monday Minute: Paczki

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What are paczki?

Only the most awesome pre-Lenten treat.

Don’t worry, I had never heard of paczki until my freshman year at MSU when I noticed a heaping pile of large jelly and custard filled “doughnuts” in the cafeteria on Fat Tuesday. All around the cafeteria, students were eating them and sharing them with friends–these were big “doughnuts” and heavy too. So of course I got into the tradition too.

Paczki, pronounced, roughly I’m told, as “punch-key”, is a plural word mind you. I don’t think I’ve ever heard the singular word…who talks about just one? It’s like Lays Chips…only much better and less healthy.


Paczki Credit: Rmhermen at

But what are pazcki?

Paczki are a filled pastry from Poland. They differ from what you might call a normal jelly doughnut in that the dough is richer and the fillings often a bit different–I’ve seen chocolate, custard, apple, as well as normal jellies and I’ve heard rose hip and prune  are traditional flavors. In areas with a strong Polish heritage like Cleveland and Detroit, packzi fill the bakeries and stores this time of year and are gobbled up by all around, regardless of heritage.

Louisiana can keep their king cake, around the Great Lakes we’ve got paczki!

Midwestern Monday Minute

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It’s time to learn about  the places I once called home (and still do in my heart): Ohio and Michigan. Each week or so I’ll try to share a story or tradition or factoid from those lands. I’ll call it “Midwestern Monday Minute,” for the sake of alliteration but I am of the opinion that Ohio and Michigan are less Midwestern culturally than part of their own Great Lakes region. More about that in an upcoming installment.

Appropriately for a Monday at the start of the month, this week I will be introducing to the world a dance for BTO’s song “Takin’ Care of Business” which I learned during social events at the Catholic student parish I attended whilst at MSU.  The “Alligator Dance,” sometimes called “Crocodile Dance,” (despite the physiological differences, most experts agree that alligators and crocodiles dance the same) is a simple, childish dance, with humorous effect. Wikipedia notes that it is popular in the Saginaw Valley and UP but mentions no origin. Everyone probably has their theories, but as this it is of the sort of antic that cousins and family friends think up at wedding receptions, I’m sure it started in a community center on a happy day in Marquette, MI…but that’s just my theory.

The dance is simple and uses the beat  “clap, clap, clap-clap-clap”  once at each step, unless noted.

1)Start standing up, clapping your hands to the above rhythm once.

2) Now do the same on your upper thighs.

3) Knell on the ground and hit the floor to the beat.

4)Lay on your stomach and hit the floor the same way.

5) Shake your right leg in the air to the beat.

6) Roll on your back and flail all your limbs in the air without attention to rhythm  but within the same time frame as the beat would hold.

7) Roll on to your stomach and shake your left leg in the air to the beat.

8 ) Lay on your stomach, pound the ground.

9) Knees pound the ground.

10) Thighs

11) Hands

Repeat and if you’re good other people will join you.

Clearly this dance is not the wisest for those who need to keep their clothing free of floor dirt, but it is good fun to do and to watch.

So there is your Midwestern Monday Minute (or two).

You other placers out there…share a tradition from your area. Perhaps another goofy wedding dance?