HOME & AWAY / MY HOME / Danish Traditions / Fastelavn
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.
Maj-Britt Vittrup Nielsen