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Sankt Hans aften                                                      
In Denmark the solstice* celebration is called Sankt Hans aften ("St. John's Eve").In accordance with the Danish tradition of celebrating a holiday on the evening before the actual day, it takes place on the evening of 23 June. It has been celebrated since the times of the Vikings by visiting healing water wells and making a large bonfire to ward away evil spirits. Today Sankt Hans aften is celebrated with bonfires on the beach, speeches, picnics and the Midsommervise (Midsummer hymn) called "Vi elsker vort land" ("We Love Our Country"). In the 1920s a tradition of putting a witch made of straw on the bonfire emerged as a remembrance of the church's witch burnings from 1540 to 1693. This burning sends the "witch" away to Bloksbjerg, the Brocken mountain in the Harz region of Germany where the great witch gathering was thought to be held on this day.
*The summer solstice is the day the sun reaches its highest point in the Northern Hemisphere's sky.

Today Fastelavn is all about children dressed in carnival costumes eating candy and sweet rolls, playing games and walking from house to house in the neighbourhood singing the song "Fastelav er mit navn" (Fastelavn is my name), but it origins back to religious traditions and darker, superstitious times.
Fastelavn comes from the German "Fastelovend" or "Fastnacht" which means "the evening before the fasting." Today the most popular game played on Fastelavn is "Slå katten af tønden" (beat the cat out of the barrel). In this game, children take turns beating on a suspended wooden barrel that is filled with candy and festooned with pictures of cats. The child who first breaks the barrel and releases the candy is given the honorary title of "kattedronning" (queen of cats), while the child who knocks out the last piece of the barrel is dubbed "kattekongen" (king of cats).
Though now just decorated with pictures of cats, the barrel at one time contained an actual black cat. Cats, and black cats in particular, were once believed to harbor evil spirits so "beating the cat out of the barrel" was literally what happened. Once the barrel was broken and the unfortunate cat escaped evil was said to be banished to make way for spring.

Gækkebreve (Teaser letters) are a unique Easter tradition to Denmark. These letters, traditionally sent out in mid-February, are paper cuttings with a little poem or verse and a snowdrop. The letters are anonymous, signed only by dots corresponding to the number of letters in the sender’s name. The object of the letter is for the receiver to guess who sent it. If he or she guesses correctly before Easter, the sender owes the receiver a chocolate Easter egg. If, however, the receiver fails to identify the sender, he or she owes the person sending the letter and Easter egg.

Maj-Britt Vittrup Nielsen