Danish Customs: Fastelavn
is an extremely old traditional Danish carnival custom celebrated in
In 2004 Fastelavn will be held on Sunday, February 22nd.
earlier days Fastelavn marked the beginning of a period of fasting. It
was the day when you prepared yourself for fasting (Lent) by eating as
much as possible. Fastelavn also meant having a lot of fun - playing
games, dressing up and partying.
many of the customs have survived, most people no longer fast on
Fastelavn, however children still wear costumes and play the traditional
Fastelavn games. One of these is the so-called "beating of the
barrel" or "knocking the cat out of the barrel" game. In
medievil times this game was taken very seriously - a live cat would be
placed in a barrel, and the barrel was beaten with sticks until it broke
and the cat escaped. It was then chased out of the town, and people
believed that it would take the collective bad luck and evil spirits of
the town with it.
days the game is symbolic and definitely not played with live animals.
Children gather around a barrel (filled with candy and fruit and usually
decorated with black cats), which hangs from the ceiling or from a tree
(depending on the game being played indoors or outdoors). They then take
turns hitting the barrel with a wooden club until the barrel finally
breaks. The lucky child causing the barrel to fall apart is crowned
"the King or Queen of cats" and is given a golden paper crown.
buns are a popular seasonal treat. Made from pastry dough and decorated
with icing, they can be found in virtually any bakery or konditori at
this time of year. In the traditional Fastelavn song (which every Danish
child knows by heart), young rascals demand the famous buns from their
neighbours, sweetly threatening to "make trouble".
Fastelavn activity is going from door to door in the neighborhood
singing and then collecting candy or money - very similar to the
American tradition of "trick or treating" on Halloween.