Because the Danish version of Halloween + Mardi Gras known as Fastelavn is upon us.
Fastelavn (literally “the fast evening”) is a holdover holiday from when Denmark was a Catholic country. (Which was, like, 400 years ago, so that’s quite a holdover!). It was originally a big celebration and feast before starting the 40 day fasting of Lent. So, just like Mardi Gras only without all the beads and naked ladies. (In fact, my Google Translate automatically translates fastelavn into Mardi Gras, which is very confusing when I’m trying to do a Google search!)
In olden days, some very specific things happened on Fastelavn. First, and perhaps most notably, the villagers would put a black cat – the eternal symbol of evil – into a barrel and whack the barrel with sticks until the cat fell out, thus signifying the triumph over evil for the rest of the year. This practice is known, inventively, as slå katten af tønden (“hit the cat out of the barrel”).
Kids still reenact this custom, but these days it’s more like hitting a piñata. It’s still a barrel, but it’s full of candy (slik) instead of cats, and the kids whack it until it falls apart.
The first one to knock the bottom out of the barrel (releasing all the candy) is announced kattedronning (“queen of cats”) and gets a dronningekrone, a small, queen sized crown. The person who knocks down the last piece of the barrel becomes kattekonge (“king of cats”) and gets a king sized crown, or a kongekrone.
Here’s some good old Danish humor for you.
Another old tradition revolves around what’s called fastelavnsris. These are a bundles of sticks – usually of willow or a fruit tree, hopefully with buds – that are decorated with paper cutouts, candies, and other things.
They used to look like this:
Ye Olde Tyme Ris
Today, they look more like children ran at some twigs with glitter and feathers because probably they did.
Apparently, they’re also used as a home decor item.
These days, children make these and then use them on the morning of Fastelavn to flog their parents, as demonstrated in this video.
Apparently, this custom comes from an old fertility ritual. (Which I guess means that the kids are encouraging their parents to get fertile and get on with having more babies?? Really, I think it’s more about the topsy-tuvyness of carnival.) Wikipedia also has this to say about said flogging around the 1700s:
“Earlier, it was mainly the young women and the infertile who were flogged. It was also common that a young man would carry his “fastelavnsris” and (of course gently) strike at young women he met on the street. Later it became the children’s special right to flog their parents on this day. In any case, the reward given for the flogging would be a fastelavnsbolle.“
So if you were a Danish dame back in the day, at least you got a lovely Danish pastry after being flogged on the street by a random stranger. And I guess you should be grateful that they were, of course, gentle.
Fastelavnsbolle are the main food associated with the holiday. They’re these very specific type of Danish pastry that comes with whipped cream in the middle.
Mmmm… There’s a recipe to make your own if you click this photo.
The reason that Fastelavn is considered the Danish Halloween is because on Fastelavn Sunday children dress up in costumes and go door to door. Instead of saying “trick or treat,” they sing a little song (awesome video below) which basically has the same message: give me a treat (read: bolle) or I’ll make trouble.
So now go out and have yourselves a happy Fastelavn!