FASTELAVN – a Danish Tradition

Anya Jensen7th February 2017
In the early Spring, we celebrate Fastelavn on the Sunday or Monday before Ash Wednesday and Lent begins. 

Fastelavn is an old Danish tradition dating back to medieval times. The children dress up as anything the fancy, and they hit a barrel ’ Slå katten af tønden’ (hit the cat out of the barrel) ‘piñata style’, to ward off evil spirits. In the old days, a real cat was put inside the barrel (the cat representing the ‘dark side’) and the barrel was battered until the cat died (or escaped being chased down the street) – not very hyggeligt! Today, thankfully, Fastelavn is a much less barbaric affair; there is only a painted cat or a sticker of a cat on the barrel, and it is usually full of candy for the kids.

We hit the barrel until it breaks, and the person who gets the bottom to fall down is crowned Queen of Cats, and the person who knocks the very last piece of wood off is crowned King of Cats. (this is gender neutral so a girl can be king, and a boy queen, if they happen to be lucky enough to knock the specific bit of the barrel down). When the bottom falls out, all the candy drops out, and then it’s a free for all, and you’ll see all the children trying to get their bit of the booty.

HYGGE - Fastelavn - a hyggelig traditionAudrey is giving the barrel a good old smack! The girl after her became King of Cats as she knocked down that last piece of wood. 

Afterward, we eat Fastelavns Boller (custard pastry rolls). These were served because during the fast, you weren’t allowed to eat white bread (wheat) so you had a feast on the days leading up to the fast and on the Tuesday you ate ‘white rolls’ – back then they were stuffed with raisins and boiled. Today they are filled with sugar, custard, jam and nice yummy stuff. Did you see our Fastelavns bolle tasting here? Also, watch this space as I will share our version of the Famous Fastelavnsbolle this weekend.

HYGGE - Fastelavn - a hyggelig tradition

Later in the afternoon, the children all dressed up in their chosen costume, go from door to door, doing a type of ‘trick or treating’ we call ‘Slik eller ballade’  (‘Candy or trouble’) where they sing the Fastelavn song to the people who open the door. The song goes like this:

HYGGE - Fastelavn - a hyggelig tradition

It’s very also very hyggeligt planning what outfit to wear on the day, going to school all dressed up, and having fun with friends and family. Today some school have competitions of the best costume, so people do tend to get very inventive.

HYGGE - Fastelavn - a hyggelig tradition Audrey was a Linedancer that year –  very whimsical!

HYGGE - Fastelavn - a hyggelig traditionHolly was Spidergirl that year – she was fierce!!

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about our traditions here in Denmark! I love that we still stick to the old traditions, and many of the things I do today with my girls, were things I did as a child myself. Do you celebrate Fastelavn where you live? Or something similar?? Do share, I love to hear what you do in your country for hygge! 

Comments (2)

  • Is Halloween a thing in Denmark? read our thoughts on the blog.

    26th October 2018 at 22:47

    […] also have FASTELAVN (see more here) which used to be the time of year kids would go around – all dressed up, and ask for […]

  • Alicia

    8th February 2017 at 09:07

    I love it – what a lovely and child friendly tradition, Reminds me a bit about Halloween.
    Those fastelands boller look great and very tasty – the whipped cream is incredible.


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