Tonight is “pork monday” and yesterday we celebrated “Fastelavn” with some very close friends.
Fastelavn er mit navn…
”Fastelavn” is the Danish word for the celebration of “Shrovetide”, a carnival of welcoming the spring. This carnival tradition dates back to 7-800 BC, where it was a pagan celebration with the purpose of driving away the darkness of winter and welcoming spring. When Christianity was introduced in europe, the carnival became a Christian tradition called Shrovetide, leading up to the 40 days of lent before Easter.
But this holiday still serves the same purpose as always: To bring light to end the dark time of year.
The Danish word for Shrovetide, “fastelavn” comes from the german “vastelavent” meaning the night before lent. Shrove Sunday always falls on the 7th Sunday before Easter and is followed by Shrove Monday, Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday.
Historically, the three days before Ash Wednesday were used to eat as much meat and sweets as possible, since both were forbidden during lent. This is why Shrove Sunday and Shrove Monday are also known as “flæskesøndag” and “flæskemandag”. (Translated it means “Pork-Sunday and Pork-Monday). Take a guess at what you had for dinner?!? 😉
Shrove Tuesday is also called “hvide tirsdag” (White Tuesday) because you would traditionally eat white foods on this day. This is also the day you would eat “fastelavnsboller” (Shrovetide buns); a sweet bun filled with custard/marzipan and jam.
Back in christian times, Shrovetide was mainly a celebration for adults, who would dress up and celebrate. Today most of the festivities are for children. Children dress up in costumes, and go from house to house singing for “treats”.(A bit like Halloween, but without all the scary costumes).
An old tradition, which still is practiced, is the Danish tradition of hitting at a barrel, like you would a “pinata”.
After christianity “adopted” the holiday, a black cat, seen as a symbol of evil (also known as a witches familiar or as satan himself), was put into the barrel. The tradition was to beat the barrel with a stick until it broke and killed the cat.
It’s still a very normal tradition, however today the barrel contains sweets or toys. But a part of the old tradition still remains, as the one to break the last board of the barrel is crowned the King of Cats. (And the first to break the barrel is crowned the Queen).
The birch rod
Another tradition we still have is the decorated Shrovetide birch rod. Children decorate birch rods with paper decorations and streamers and we showcase them in our house as a sign of the coming spring.
As a pagan sign of fertility it was considered good luck for young newly wed women to be struck with a birch rod, as it would increase her fertility. This tradition was changed as well as christianity adopted the holiday to symbolize beating evil and sin out of people.
Today the tradition is thankfully much more family-friendly, and many children will decorate their birch rod in school or in kindergarten, and wake their parents on Shrove Sunday by beating the birch on their duvets and singing a special “fastelavns” song:
“Boller op, Boller ned, Boller i min mave…
Hvis jeg ingen boller får, så laver jeg ballade!”
“Buns up, Buns down, Buns in my belly…
If I don’t get any buns, I am going to make trouble!”
Of course you would serve the children “fastelavnsboller”, because who wants trouble?! 🙂
Dianna was dressed as a little kitten this year (thx for the costume Uncle Daniel!)
Becoming a mother has reminded me how important it is to celebrate family traditions and to keep them going.
I hope someday she will be the one celebrating fastelavn with her children and friends! 🙂
How do you celebrate the coming of spring?