For Cincinnati Germans, The Kinkling Became A Fasching Food Custom that Morphed into Halloween

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A Fredrick County, Maryland Kinkling Doughnut

With all my recent posts about Mobile, Alabama’s Mardi Gras foods, I’ve been searching for a reason to write about our own local German Fasching customs.     Well, I found one and how it relates to Halloween.   Recently, a non-German, native Cincinnatian posed a question to our local authority on customs at the German Heritage Museum.   She said that when she and other kids went trick or treating on Halloween in Cincinnati in the 1950s they would not say, “Trick or Treat,” but rather: “Kigili, Kigili.” She didn’t know what this meant, but thought it sounded German.

Considering the large German heritage of our region, this probably morphed from the Swabian-German dialect word for doughnuts: “Kuechele,” and that the reference was to kids of German descent saying, “Kuechele, kuechele,” asking for doughnuts as treats at Halloween.   The, other kids of non-German descent in the neighborhoods heard this and picked it up.

A Cincinnati native, George M Henzel, recalled that children in Cincinnati in the 1910s did in fact get doughnuts as they begged from door to door. “ Halloween handouts were home-made doughnuts, cakes, and cookies, or maybe apples or other fruit. Very little candy was passed out, and if it was, it too, was home-made, such as taffy or peanut brittle.”

But why doughnuts at Halloween? Well, this probably was a transfer over from another German holiday, very similar to Halloween, that the Germans brought and celebrated before Lent– Fasching, also known as Karneval. On Fastnacht, or Fat Tuesday, Germans would eat a doughnut known as a Fastnacht to celebrate their having to fast for the next 40 days of Lent, leading up to Easter. Fastnacht and Fasching are the German equivalent to Mardi Gras and Carnivale and is celebrated in southern Germany, Switzerland, Alsace, and Austria. Fastnachts were made as a way to empty the pantry of lard, sugar, fat, and butter, which were traditionally prohibited as part of the Lenten fast.    These are very similar to the Polish paczki doughnut also eaten on Fat Tuesday, locally available at Busken and Bonomoni Bakeries before Lent.

In parts of Maryland, these Fat Tuesday treats are called Kinklings, or “Kuechles”, and are sold all over in bakeries before Lent. The Kinkling version of the doughnut is probably the same dialect that brought the Cincinnati saying “kigili, kigili.” In Frederick County, Maryland, they even call Fat Tuesday, Kinkling Day, as the German doughnut is found all over the city and region.     Fire companies, churches, and other volunteer organizations in Frederick County make and sell these kinklings by the tens of thousands as fundraisers.

In Maryland, the Kinkling is made from a yeasty dough about 3 inches across. The dough is proved and allowed to rise, then punched down, and scored into shape with a pizza cutter.   They are then dropped into frying pans of boiling oil.   The dough quickly puffs up until it resembles a tiny, tufted pillow.   Most are then dusted with powdered sugar while still warm.   Some older recipes use mashed potatoes in the dough.

The Pennsylvania Dutch communities in and around Lancaster County, also celebrate Fasching by eating the Fastnacht doughnut.

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A Lancaster County Fastnacht Doughnut

German immigrants in America took to celebrating Halloween with gusto.   For them, dressing up reminded them of this Fasching in the old country with masks and costumes. The witches and cats reminded them of Walpurgisnacht, a holiday celebrated in Northeastern Germany around the Spring Solstice, celebrating the mythical witches Sabbath.   Today, elaborate Fasching parades are orchestrated in Germany, where elaborate traditional carved wooden masks are worn.     The Hofbrauhaus in Newport, Kentucky, hosts a Fasching celebration put on by Cincinnati’s German American Citizen’s League.       Some wear these traditional carved wooden masks and clown costumes and parade around the beer hall.

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Locally, the Germans have been celebrating Fasching with masked balls since before the Civil War.   The Cincinnati Turner Societies and other German clubs had very popular Fasching balls where people dressed up in costumes like Martha and George Washington, General Bismark, and Mataafa, a famous Samoan King.

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An ad for a Fasching Masked Ball at the Cincinnati Turnhall, 1880s.

So, to mix it up the next time you go trick or treating, you might say, “Kigili, kigili” and see what kind of treat you get.

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One thought on “For Cincinnati Germans, The Kinkling Became A Fasching Food Custom that Morphed into Halloween

  1. From Flora via Facebook: “I grew up in Dayton, KY, across the river from Cincinnati in the 40s and 50s. We used to say, “kigili, kigili’ instead of trick or treat. In fact, when we heard others saying trick or treat, we thought it seemed weird.”

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