Five Ways to Celebrate Mardi Gras in Buffalo, NY

In case you didn't know it already, the French "Mardi Gras" translates to "fat Tuesday." Also called "Carnival," this alludes to the last day of feasting before the fast and penitence of Lent; Buffalo and the surrounding cities contain about 700,000 Catholics, so Lent is a pretty big deal. But so is serious partying, just before attempting to be good for 40 days and nights. Here are five ways to indulge in eating, drinking, and all kinds of making merry before Ash Wednesday rolls around and all there's left to do until Easter is wish for the snow to melt.

1. Get a King Cake from Mazurek's Bakery.
Mazurek's Bakery opened in 1933 in a building that had already been a bakery since 1895. Because of its location, it was a huge hit with Buffalo's Polish population and sold many Polish treats. The bakery passed to the owners' son; it stayed in the family until 2012, when Ty Reynolds and Nick Smith bought the bakery, continuing to use the original recipes that patrons have loved for decades. It's also one of the only bakeries in Buffalo to get a freshly-made King Cake, a staple of any Mardi Gras table. For the uninitiated, King Cake is a colorful pastry – often featuring the Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold – which is eaten in abundance during Carnival season. There's a small plastic or porcelain baby, said to represent the baby Jesus and usually baked inside the cake, which allegedly brings good luck (and the designation of "King" or "Queen" of the party) to whoever discovers it. So if your Mardi Gras plans include becoming royalty for a night? Mazurek's is a great place to start.

2. Attend The Big Easy in Buffalo Annual Mardi Gras Jam.
Held at Buffalo Iron Works, 2016 marks the 9th year that the venue will present authentic New Orleans-style jazz to usher in the festivities. The Big Easy in Buffalo is the night's sponsor; the group is dedicated to bringing New Orleans and Louisiana music and culture to the area several times a year for live performance, as well as interaction with local musicians, students, and the community. The annual Mardi Gras Jam, held the Friday before the actual day of Mardi Gras, is the group's highlight of the year. Kick up your heels, pretend you're in the bayou, and dance the night away!

@joefoodie, Flickr

3. Nosh on Paczkis from Paula's Donuts.
Fastnachts and paczkis are both doughnuts consumed with enthusiasm during Mardi Gras, but they're completely opposite of one another: fastnachts are flat and covered with sugar (or plain, for the odd folks), while paczkis are fat, with a glaze or sugar coating, and crammed with jelly. Yet another Polish food that made its way to Mardi Gras, the paczki is so rich that history claims its existence came about as a way to use up all of the fattening ingredients in the household before Lent. The tamer fastnacht, however, is usually eaten throughout Lent – in moderation, of course. Paula's Donuts is the premier name in WNY for just about any sweet breakfast treat, but their paczkis are so popular that the website issues this warning: "We make PACZKIS on FAT TUESDAY ONLY. These are not available for order. It is first come, first served." Better get in line now.

4. Stock up on supplies from Party City.
Granted, Party City isn't a Buffalo-based retailer. But with its multiple locations throughout WNY and its vast selection of beads, masks, decorations, cups, plates and just about everything needed to throw the best party in town, you'll never have to shop anywhere. Just add people – hopefully ones who will help clean up after the festivities are over.

5. Go to Ellicottville for a Mardi Gras weekend.
For two days of revelry before actual Fat Tuesday, head south to ski country, where the charming village of Ellicottville has a whole list of activities available, from family-friendly to leave-the-kids-at-home. With a Junior Bacchus Ball (including a King and Queen pageant), annual parade, and local merchants decorating in true Mardi Gras style, there are plenty of bars downtown to have a pint or two once all the walking has run its course. And if partying at the ski lodge is more your speed, head over to Holiday Valley Resort (where one of the trails is even called Mardi Gras!) and HoliMont Ski Area for other events that will cap off the holiday season, just in time for a well-needed rest before spring.

Kimberly Mintz is a freelance writer and voice actor who lives in the Buffalo area, who now wants all the doughnuts before Lent begins. Follow her on Twitter @KimIsWriting.