Danish fastelavn traditions for newbies

Fastelavn will be celebrated all across Denmark this Sunday. Kids will dress up in costumes, eat buns and hit barrels. Here's our newbie guide to the Danish tradition of Fastelavn.

Danish Fastelavn In 50 words or less

Danish Fastelavn is somewhat a hybrid of Halloween and Carnival. Back in the old days, this Danish feast included lots of alcohol, barrel hitting and cat killing. Today, the cat is cardboard and the tradition is mostly for children. Don't let this stop you from enjoying Danish Fastelavn though.

Danish fastelavn

The dull facts of Fastelavn

The Danish Fastelavn tradition [Shrovetide] takes place in February in the week up to the Catholic Season of Lent (49 days prior to Easter Sunday).

The word Fastelavn originates from the German word ‘Fastelabend’, which means ‘the evening before the fast’. The word is the North European equivalent to carnival [carne vale] that originally meant ‘goodbye meat’ and is the time of feasting before the fast of Lent.

Now that we got all the dull facts out of the way, we’ll get on to the more interesting stuff like how to celebrate Fastelavn and take full advantage of this Danish tradition.

Common Danish words for Fastelavn:

Below you'll find a few Danish words and phrases for Fastelavn in Denmark. Click on the icon to hear the pronunciation:

Fastelavnsudklædning – [Shrovetide costume] Danes (mostly the children) dress up for Fastelavn. If you are invited to an adult Fastelavn party, you’ll be expected to find a costume as well.

Danish fastelavnstoende

Fastelavnstønde – [Shrovetide barrel] A fastelavnstønde is a decorated wooden barrel filled with sweets. The barrel is hung up for Fastelavn and children hit it with a wooden bat until it breaks and the sweets inside fall out.

Slå katten af tønden – [Knocking the cat out of the barrel] This is a traditional Danish Fastelavn activity similar to the Mexican piñata tradition. Today, it’s usually kids hitting a barrel full of sweets. Historically, the bloodthirsty Danes put a real black cat in the barrel, and the beating of the barrel (and the cat) was a safeguard against evil.

Kattekonge/dronning – [King/queen of cats] If you are lucky enough to be the one who knocks out the bottom of the barrel (making all the sweets fall out) you become kattedronning (queen of cats). The one who knocks down the last piece of the barrel becomes kattekonge (king of cats).

Danish fastelavnsris

Fastelavnsris – [Shrovetide birch rod] is a bundle of leafless twigs bound together and decorated with cardboard cats, whistles and treats. Most Danish children get a fastelavnsris on the morning of Fastelavn. They use it to 'birch' their parents in bed, while singing:

Fastelavn er mit navn, boller vil jeg have,
hvis jeg ingen boller får, så laver jeg ballade.

[Fastelavn is my name, buns I want to have,
If I don’t get any buns, I’ll make trouble]

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Fastelavnsbolle Danish fastelavn

How to join in

Having a kid definitely helps, but you can still enjoy Danish fastelavn buns or find a few Fastelavn parties for adults. The important part is having a costume if you want to join in.

You can also organize your own Fastelavn party. Visit fastelavnstoenden.dk to order the necessary props.

Must try foods or beverages

Modern Danish Fastelavn does not entail a lot of traditional foods or beverages. Today, the tradition involves sweets for the children and 'fastelavnsboller'.

Fastelavnsbolle – [Shrovetide bun] is a popular baked good associated with Danish Fastelavn. This is a round sweet roll usually covered with icing and the best buns are filled with a custard-type cream. Definitely, worth a try.

Inspiration for your Danish bucket list

1. Join the Danes when they hit the cat of the barrel. This activity normally takes place at schools, sport clubs or churches. Check your local newspaper to find a place near you. Who knows ... Maybe you’ll become king or queen of cats.

2. Make your own fastelavnsris [Shrovetide birch rod]. You can buy the twigs in the shops and decorate the birch rod with your favourite colors. They look gorgeous in a vase at home.

3. Make sure to try a Danish 'fastelavnsbolle'. They are delicious. Be careful though. Calorie-wise, they are definitely trouble.

What about you?

Leave a comment and tell us of your best experience with Danish fastelavn.



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  • Brian Petersen

    Where can I order a fastalavn barrel?

  • hi


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