Celebrating Fastelavn in Denmark

There are various celebrations observed by the Danes all throughout the year. One that is particularly associated with the season of Lent is the Fastelavn. Although the people of Denmark now are predominantly Protestant, it is a celebration that originated from Roman Catholic traditions. What used to be a religious event has become an event very similar to the Mardi Gras.

Loosely translated as “fast evening” or “day before lent”, Fastelavn actually occurs seven weeks before Easter Sunday. The event is described like a Nordic Halloween where children dress themselves up in costumes and gather treats. The day is marked by fun and family games.

Many towns in Denmark celebrate Fastelavn with lavish festivities and parades. One very distinct activity during this day is known as “hit the cat out of the barrel”. This would entail filling up a wooden barrel with candy and oranges. The barrel would usually have an image of a black cat on it and people would take turns beating it until the candies and oranges spill out. This is in the belief that this will help drive out evil spirits. Tradition has it that a real black cat is placed inside the barrel.

A popular baked goodie is associated with Fastelavn. This is the fastelavnsbolle or the lenten bun. It consists of a round sweet roll covered with icing and filled with whipped cream. The fastelavnsris is an interesting custom associated with this celebration. This custom allows children to ritually “flog”their parents in obvious reference to the flogging done on Jesus Christ on Good Friday.

 

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