Fastelavn

Happy pancake day everyone!

We have enjoyed our usual style of slightly shrivelled-looking homemade pancakes this evening, topped with a standard lemon and sugar coating.

But on Sunday we embraced the Danish version of pancake day celebrations, which is Fastelavn.

The Fastelavn leaflet through our mailbox

After getting a leaflet through our mailbox, I thought we’d been invited to someone’s birthday party. Google translate left me a little confused so I asked our neighbours if they’d been invited too and that’s when they explained Fastelavn to us. My Danish family then told me more and showed me this photo.

Taken by a family photographer friend Susanne Mertz in Christianshavn, circa 2000.

Fastelavn (pronounced Faste-a-loun) is celebrated in Denmark every year on the Sunday before Shrove Tuesday. Some call it a Nordic Halloween. Children dress up, but unlike Halloween, they don’t have to be scary. In fact, there are no limits when it comes to costumes (a blessing or a curse to parents!). At our local event, the costumes varied from fairies, a bunch of grapes, to a loo, complete with a loo-roll holder arm.

Once they’re all gathered in their finery, the children form an orderly queue and take it in turns to hit a large barrel. It’s similar to piñata, but is called “slå katten af tønden,” which means “hit the cat out of the barrel.” Apparently, back in the day, a cat would be placed in the barrel and the barrel hit with a stick until the cat escaped. The cat was then chased out of the town, with the idea it was taking bad luck away with it. Cats are spared this ordeal nowadays, although I think I’d be the one more terrified at waiting for the stick-bashing moment the cat escaped, alarmed, angry and with claws at the ready. I’m so scared of cats, I once caused Rich to jump out of bed to my rescue, when he heard me scream outside our front door after a late shift. I’d seen a cat and it was staring at me.

So…luckily, no cats involved in Fastelavn anymore, except for a drawing on the barrel. Instead of a cat escaping, sweets fall out of the barrel, hurrah! The child who successfully frees the sweets, is named the Queen of Cats. The child who takes down the last piece of barrel, is named King of Cats. What’s left, is a bit of a mess on the floor. Lydia isn’t old enough to have a go at hitting the barrel, or eat sweets, so she toddled over to the aftermath and stared. Being an under-age Festalavn partaker also meant I got away without dressing her up. Next year may be different…Lyddie Loo?!

'Slå katten af tønden' leftovers.

After barrel hitting is complete, some children then go around their neighbours knocking on doors for sweets or money. In our area, they had a little community party instead.

Fastelavn also involves food. A typical Fastelavn treat is a sweet roll covered in icing and filled with cream. These are sold in shops in the run-up to the day. I’m not sure how I missed this but I did (sad face).

Lucky I had my shrivelled up pancake instead.

 

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