Fastelavn // Danish Carnival + Halloween

Yes yes, and this Halloween is much older than the world-famous American show. I have heard about it before but this year I got my first-row experience of “cat”-beating, dress-up and family fun.

As I came to learn, Fastelavn originated in the Catholic Denmark before the year 1536. To prepare for the 40-day fasting the Danes decided that they needed a big day to blow off some steam, feast on all the soon-to-be-banned tempting food, dress up in funny costumes, drink beer (of course, as if they need a special occasion for that!) and have all the fun in the world. Who can blame them, many nations have something similar. In addition the rich would dress up as poor and vice versa, so for one day only the social rules would be reversed.

To top it off, the young and strong men of the area would put a mostly black cat (to drive away evil spirits) in a barrel and take turns beating the barrel until it was completely smashed. As for the fates of thousands of poor cats I will remain silent.

This was pretty much how it was done until 1900’s. Either they realized that their goodwilled but irresponsible actions have driven the cat population to a critical minimum, or they were tired of senseless barrel-beating year after year for hundreds of years. Whatever is the case the floor was given to kids since then. Now it is the kids who keep the tradition alive luckily with no cats and alcohol involved.

When is it celebrated would be the logical question? Fastelavn Sunday is 7 weeks before the Easter, so it is between February 1st and March 7th. This year it falls on February 10th and across Copenhagen and Denmark many parks, shopping malls and toy stores organized barrel-beatings. Of course I was excited to see it so I went to Illum, a big shopping mall in central Copenhagen.

I arrived well before the fun was to begin, so to make sure I had a good place for taking photos. And at 13:00 sharp the commotion began! About 50 kids, all dressed up in different fairy-tale and modern day heroes and animals lined up according to age groups to take turns to beat the barrels. I was amazed at the level of their cooperation and well behaviour. No skipping the line, no running around, just standing patiently and excitedly and waiting for their turn to arrive.

But enough talking here are some shots from the 30-minute fun.

The intense action beating the barrel. Considering how much effort these kids put into it, it's good there was no cat hiding inside 🙂

The famous cat-barrel, but don't worry there are no cats inside, just some sweets 🙂

This little super-cute mermaid is one of my most favourites. Her ingeniously gorgeous outfit and sweet face are just tooooo adorable!

Yeeeh I did it 🙂

Make space, let the ninja try!

Getting there...

JAAAAA! And the Snowhite becomes the Cat-Queen 🙂

Boooooom, there go two of the barrels

The play of emotions - the winner's "I told you!" face and the crushed hopes of the other two princesses

For the very small age group it was back to the good old traditions - the parents were showing-off

And of course some well-deserved feasting in the end!

Another common tradition is to make “fastelavnsris”, which are branches of birch tree decorated with papercuts and candy. On the Sunday morning kids wake their parents up by beating on the blankets 🙂 Afterwards they make fastelavnsboller, yummy sweet pastry-buns with jam or cream inside and chocolate glazing. There are two schools of this traditional pastry. One is sweet bread with marzipan inside and icing on top. The other is butterdej (pastry dough) with jam or cream filling.

Fastelavnsboller from Lagkagehuset

So after all this hard work of beating a cat out of the barrel, next day kids dress up again and go trick-or-treating in the neighbourhood. Certainly they sing a Fastelavn song.

Here is the lyrics. For the music click on the link.

Fastelavn er mit navn

Fastelavn er mit navn,
boller vil jeg have.
Hvis jeg ingen boller får,
så laver jeg ballade.

Fastelavn er mit navn
boller i min mave.
Hvis jeg ingen boller får,
så laver jeg ballade.

Photos © Ani Movsisyan

By Ani Movsisyan • February 8, 2013
Categories: , , ,



  1. Posted October 10, 2013 at 19:44 by Willy Jørgensen | Permalink

    Don’t forget this verse.

    “Boller op, boller ned boller i min mave.
    Hvis jeg ingen boller får, så laver jeg ballade”.

  2. Posted October 15, 2013 at 12:05 by Ani Movsisyan | Permalink

    Hej Willy,

    Thanks for the additional verse 🙂


  3. Posted January 2, 2014 at 23:17 by Lars | Permalink

    I just miss the carnival. Especially the one in Aalborg. I think it is the biggest in Europe.

    Bye from Crete.

  4. Posted March 8, 2014 at 15:10 by Kostumer til Sidste Skoledag | Permalink

    Don’t forget this verse.

    “Boller op, boller ned boller i min mave.
    Hvis jeg ingen boller får, så laver jeg ballade”.

    good blog!

  5. Posted March 10, 2014 at 17:23 by Ani Movsisyan | Permalink

    Thanks! 🙂

  6. Posted January 22, 2015 at 16:40 by birgit larsen | Permalink

    Well done with the writing of the article. The event has become commercial in Denmark, just like any thing. When I was a kid, we dressed up in what we could find
    and went from door to door singing the song. It looks chaotic now. Good job and good journey.

  7. Posted January 22, 2015 at 17:14 by Ani Movsisyan | Permalink

    Dear Birgit,

    Thank you very much for the nice letter. I do agree with you, many things seem to have gone down the commercialization path. It is a pity because in the process you risk losing the real joy from such nice traditions. When I was watching the fastelavn on that day in Illum, it looked more like a fashion contest of the kids’ outfits. I have seen photos from my husband’s childhood, when all their costumes were hand-sewn by parents and simple materials. Yet they were so creative…

    Of course not all kids will agree with us nowadays 🙂

    It was great hearing from you.

    All the best,

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Stories from the Fairy-tale Land

Ani Movsisyan

I was born with a traveller’s suitcase in my hand. I am from Armenia, an ancient land of amazing beauty and big-hearted people. A few years ago a courageous Dane stole me over and after two weddings and two years of fabulous adventures in China and Germany, here we are settled in the fairy-tale country of Denmark. In September 2012 I am going back to the books and starting my Masters at DTU. Staying true to the travel spirit I work at Everplaces, where we build a tool for travellers. From my homebase in Copenhagen I am onto exploring the beautiful gems and curious traditions this land holds. To follow my adventures you can also check out my personal blog at