Denmark, Europe, Local's Guide to Copenhagen

Fastelavn in Denmark: How to Celebrate Carnival like a Dane

If there is one thing I love about moving to a new country, it’s exploring its traditions and customs. Now we all know that carnival is a big deal in many places such as Venice or Rio de Janeiro. They are even kind of a thing back home in Austria, particularly for children, but also for adults. Now, in Denmark fastelavn is mostly a kid’s affair with strange traditions. Intrigued? read more about fastelavn tradition in Denmark below!

 

What is Fastelavn?

Fastelavn essentially is the Danish word for carnival. It is traditionally celebrated on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday and leads up to the Christian fasting period known as Lent. Although it is of particular importance in the Catholic faith, fastelavn still evolved its own characteristics in Lutheran Denmark.

 

Fastelavn Tradition in Denmark

There are two fastelavn traditions in Denmark that stick out in particular. One involves a cat, the other a flogging. Sounds strange? Perhaps it is, but it is nothing but a bit of good fun to Danes 😉

 

Cat Bashing

Animal lovers beware, no cats are actually being harmed in this peculiar fastelavn tradition. In slå katten af tønden (“hit the cat out of the barrel”) a wooden barrel is decorated with the image of a cat and filled with candy (much like a pinata). Children then take turns in smashing the barrel until the bottom falls out. The person to achieve this feat is crowned kattedronning (queen of cats) and the one who then knocks out the last piece of the barrel becomes kattekonge (king of cats). Finally, the candy is shared among all the children.

Back in the good old days, there was actually a real cat inside the barrel, which, upon being released by the kattedronning, usually ran far and was said to take the evil with it.

 

fastelavn in denmark cat barrell

 

Birch Flogging

Another interesting tradition Danes have adopted during this holiday is the use of the fastelavnsris. The Fastelavnsris basically consists of a bundle of leafless birch twigs which are often decorated colorfully. Children will wake their parents on the morning of fastelavn with a gentle flogging. This tradition has somewhat gone out of style, but many Danes still remember it fondly.

 

What to Eat on Fastelavn

Speaking of buns, there is a sweet treat which is typical for Shrovetide in Denmark, namely the fastelavnsbolle. There are actually several different kinds of this traditional Danish pastry. Generally, it involves a sweet puff pastry filled with utter deliciousness; either custard or jam. They can also be cut in half, filled with cream and topped with icing. The latter is considered by most to be the most authentic Danish fastelavnsbolle. Perhaps get one of each and decide later which one you like best? 😉

You can either make them at home yourself (an impossible feat to me!), or buy one from one of the many bakeries around town.

 

 

fastelavn in denmark festelavnsbolle

 

What to Do on Fastelavn

Children usually dress up on fastelavn, much like children would do on Halloween. Anything goes, and you can either go original or traditional! Children will also often go from house to house to collect candy. If you’re an adult feel free to add a touch of sparkle to your outfit as well. After all, it should be fun for everybody 😉

If you are planning to take out your kids for “raslen”, make sure to memorize this song as it should guarantee some sweet treats!

 

Fastelavn er mit navn,
boller vil jeg have.
Hvis jeg ingen boller får,
så laver jeg ballade.
Boller op, boller ned
boller i min mave.
Hvis jeg ingen boller får,
så laver jeg ballade.

 

Where to Celebrate Fastelavn in Copenhagen

Festelavn is usually celebrated either with family or within a small community, e.g. a parish or at a neighborhood meeting. It’s probably worth checking postings around your supermarkets, at your local church, or around your building. That should be the easiest way of finding celebrations to join.

One other place you could go, is the National Museum. The National Museum of Denmark hosts fastelavn celebrations every year, although you do have to sign up for them! Make sure to buy your tickets well in advance so you won’t miss out on the fun! Read more about it here.

If you have time to get out of the city, head South to Dragør on Amager. On fastelavn the town holds a big celebration which includes a horseback procession which is accompanied by flags and music. If you want to read more about the festivities and the program, read on here.

 

Have fun! 🙂

 


Now, what do you think? How is carnival celebrated in your country? How does it relate to the Danish fastelavn traditions? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below! Let’s stay in touch!

 

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