What is Fastelavn?
In Denmark, there is a tradition called Fastelavn. Fastelavn is celebrated seven weeks before Easter Day. Therefore, Fastelavn this year falls on Sunday February 14. But what is Fastelavn?
Fastelavn is a carnival of sort, where kids dress up in costumes and go trick-or-treating. It is celebrated in daycare institutions, schools etc. While Fastelavn is mostly for children, as few adults dress up, you can experience that the students at the university also will celebrate Fastelavn by having Fastelavn Parties. This year though it is advised not to go trick-or-treating due to Covid-19.
Some say that Fastelavn is the Danish equivalent of Halloween, but while there are similarities, like kids dressing up in costumes, there are also many differences between the Danish Fastelavn and Halloween.
Fastelavn is an old tradition and has deep cultural roots. It is based on the Roman Catholic tradition of celebrating the days before Lent. At Fastelavn, kids “knock the cat out of the barrel” with a bat. Or in Danish, "Slå katten af tønden". In the old times, a black cat was literally put in a barrel as a symbol of evil and beaten to death. This was done to ward off evil.
Nowadays, however, the barrel is filled with candy. When the kids knock the barrel, they compete to become “Cat Queen” and “Cat King”. "Cat Queen" is the one who knocks the bottom off the barrel so that the candy comes flushing out, while the person who becomes "Cat King" is the one who knocks the last remaining board off the barrel.
Another tradition related to Fastelavn is eating Fastelavnsboller. These are sweet buns that are typically filled with cream or jam. You can buy them almost everywhere in bakeries and grocery stores as Føtex.
If you have children, be aware if the child's school or day-care institution celebrates fastelavn, so that you can dress up your child. You can make your child's costume yourself or buy one in a toy store, as these usuallly have a vide sortiment of costumes.
If you are interested in learning more about Fastelavn, its origin and its traditions, you can read more here.