Picture courtesy of The Michelsen family

February 20, 2014

Last Sunday The Danish Sisterhood joined the Danish American Athletic Club (DAAC) for its Fastelavn Celebration, and I’m told that there was a wonderful turn out!  Members, friends and families with children of all ages took part in the traditional costume parade, and there was Fastelavnsris and Slå katten af tønden (“hit the cat out of the barrel”).  Of course, Fastelavns boller was enjoyed as well!

Fastelavn woman

Costume from the early 1900s

Now, if you need to brush up on your Fastelavn traditions, or if you are new to this all together I will further explain soon enough. With Fastelavn (March 2nd) and Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday (March 4th) just around the corner, and some festivities already starting, I myself wanted to find out more about these celebrations and traditions held around the world.  With this winter being so awful, thinking about parties and celebrations will give us something fun to look forward to as we head toward spring!

Fastelavn, Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday (referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season) Shrovetide, Mardi Gras and Carnival are all traditional celebrations held around the world before Easter, and are all fairly similar in origin.  During Lent many of the faithful commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penitence, and a celebration is necessary to indulge beforehand!

Fastelavn is Danish for ‘fast evening’ and referred to this time before Lent.  Today it is known as The Nordic Halloween and is mainly a children’s holiday where games are played and they dress up and go door to door to beg for treats.  Here is a song that is sung to people who open their door:


‘Boller op, boller ned, boller i min mave,
hvis jeg ingen boller får, så laver jeg ballade’

(‘Buns up, buns down, buns in my tummy,
If I don’t get any buns, I’ll make trouble’)


Long ago boller would be given out to children, and although today it is mainly candy that is handed out, Fastelavn boller is still a customary treat to make during this celebration. 

Fastelavn4A popular game to play during Fastelavns is Slå katten af tønden (“hit the cat out of the barrel”).  It is not nearly as gruesome as it sounds, but is similar to a piñata.  A barrel (whether real or made from paper like this one) is stung up and sometimes a play cat is put inside along with candy and treats.  Children take turns hitting the barrel and whoever breaks it open to reveal the treats is crowned Fastelavn King or Queen.

The origins of this custom stems from long ago when evil was believed to play a part in crop success or decline, and up until the 19th century a live cat was used. When the barrel was hit opened the cat (as expected) would run or be chased away, signifying evil being chased from the village.

The Danes sure know how to have fun, and now you have a reason to celebrate twice each year!  Check out our Fastelavn Pinterest board to find costume ideas from today and from the early 20th century, as well as, boller recipes, Fastelavnris crafts and more!