February 3, 2008


fastelavn is the danish version of carnival/mardi gras, and is appropriately a very family-oriented holiday (just as the danes seem to be a very family-oriented people). it’s actually kind of like halloween – children dress up in costumes, decorate festive bouquets of beech twigs and beat the crap out of a barrel that historically contained a black cat (cover your ears, lester!!), but in modern times contains candy, a less cruel and controversial alternative. it was fun to see the danish version of this holiday, and i got to see a few different fastelavn activities (including the barrel-beating above):


the national museum in copenhagen hosted a ‘fastelavnsfest’ (note the image on the poster)


first, there was lots of gathering of children in the atrium and decorating of the beech twig bundles


there were some pretty cute costumes, and parents were very involved (and some costumed themselves)


more cute costumes…and my favorite, a pirate! arrrr…


evidently it was very important to fasten lots of brightly colored feathers and scraps of tissue paper to one’s bundle of twigs, as well as a carnival mask and a cutout of a paper cat


then everyone marched upstairs with their festive implements to the barrel-beating room! there was one barrel for each age group, and the kids lined up behind them and took turns whacking them with sticks…


kids waiting their turn at the barrel/one child takes a running approach


more barrel-beating


and finally, the candy! the barrel-beating doesn’t have the fun or danger of the blindfold (as with piñatas), but those barrels are pretty tough, and it took a long time for the kids to beat them apart. the kid who breaks the barrel open is supposed to become the ‘kattedronning,’ or queen of cats, and whoever breaks apart the last piece hanging from the rope becomes ‘kattekonge,’ or king of cats. that all goes back to the black cat thing i mentioned earlier…


also, yesterday, i was having coffee with friends in christianshavn, and this group stopped outside our cafe:


i’m pretty sure this was associated with fastelavn (a very nice old man tried to explain it to me, and he mentioned the children/costumes/barrels, also). anyway, it was a group on horseback from the riding school hopping from cafe to cafe…


the parade of horses drew some costumed children (love the toothpaste costume!!)…and they – the riders – did some singing…


after which it is traditional for the owner of the cafe to serve fastelavn buns (which i tried at the bakery, and, like all danish pastry, they are delicious) and mulled wine to the riders…


the proprietor serving wine/horses all gussied up

i think they had been to a fair number of cafes at this point…and they seemed to be having an awesome time. luckily, there was no falling off of the horses. ; ) happy fastelavn, all!! may you have many feathers in your branch bouquet, and may your wine be mulled!