At Nebraska Fish Fries, All Are Welcome
April 13, 2022 | View PDF
For many Nebraskans, Lent means two things: a time for personal reflection, and a time for weekly fish fries.
My daughter-in-law comes from a big Catholic family who have called Omaha home for generations. This family grew up by Holy Name Catholic Church, and her mom, aunts, uncle, and cousins once again recently hosted me at Holy Name’s weekly fish fry.
The moment I walked in, I was met by the sound of people laughing and talking. The entire church basement was filled with people who were there for fellowship and a good meal. The fish was delicious, the fries and cole slaw were outstanding, and volunteers from the Holy Name Men’s Club served everything with good humor and a few jokes.
Fish fries like this one have brought communities together for more than a century. While many Christians have abstained from meat on Fridays during Lent for nearly 2,000 years, fish fries are a more recent American tradition, with roots in the early 20th-century Midwest.
Fish fries aren’t just for one religion. At Holy Name, people of all religions and backgrounds – sometimes almost 3,000 on their busier nights – come together for this time as a community. This is especially important as we finally move on from the pandemic: Like many other churches, Holy Name canceled their fish fries last year and had to cut them short in 2020.
At Holy Name, I saw three and even four generations of families passing babies around to be held and loved. I saw long-lost friends reconnecting after years apart. And I saw people who had never met before sitting at communal tables, sharing a meal and realizing they have more in common than they thought.
Holy Name is far from the only Nebraska parish to hold fish fries. Before Lent began, KETV ran a story featuring more than 30 in the Omaha area alone. And while Catholic churches are the most common venue, all kinds of places host fish fries. Many breweries, American Legion posts, and community centers also offer this chance to gather around a plate of savory fish during Lent.
I also recently joined St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Beatrice for their fish fry, where the crowds are smaller but just as welcoming. Every week, the local Knights of Columbus chapter serves up equally delicious fish alongside mac and cheese, cole slaw, and fries. After visiting the Beatrice Food Pantry in early February, I enjoyed this chance to return to Southeast Nebraska.
Our time apart during the pandemic taught me not to take these kinds of community events for granted. We should truly treasure these moments with family and friends.
If Lent is for fish fries, summer is for pancake feeds. I am especially looking forward to pancake feeds in towns like McCook and Norfolk benefiting our veterans, volunteer firefighters, and other worthy causes. These events are always a wonderful opportunity to relax and visit with community members in a fun environment, and enjoy a good meal at the same time.
I hope you will find time to visit a fish fry before Easter, especially if you have never been. You might just discover a new favorite tradition.
Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.