DIY Fastelavn – Danish Carnival

Last week in We heart Danish Drama, I gave you an idea for a Carnival costume.  And, by jingo, if you’re planning to celebrate Fastelavn (as the Danes call it), you’d better get your skates on.  Because this year the moveable feast falls early.  Really early.  Sunday 19 February.  Which is the Sunday before the Danish schools’ winter holiday week – eek!

Fastelavnsboller = Danish carnival buns

The kids and I are busy getting into the swing of things.  We’ve already eaten several huge, sticky fastelavnsboller (traditional Danish carnival buns).  DD9 (Dear Daughter, 9) has her carnival costume ready and waiting on a coathanger – this year she’s Hermione from ‘Harry Potter’, selvfølgelig.  And DS12 (Dear Son, 12) has politely informed me that he won’t be needing a costume this year because he’s “too old for that kind of thing, Mum!”  😉

However, he wouldn’t say ‘No’ to a fastelavnsris, so we’ll still be making those…  Now we could, of course, buy them readymade from the local supermarket or sweetshop but a) we can save a fortune it’s fun to make our own and b) the kids can choose the sweets themselves.  You don’t know what a Fastelavnsris is or how to make one?  Never fear!  Here’s my post from last year, complete with step-by-step instructions.

Have a wonderful Wednesday! 🙂

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(First published 2011)

My DD8 (dear daughter, 8 years old) was looking forward to going to school this morning. Because in art class they’re decorating piñatas for fastelavn (carnival).  Carnival in Copenhagen!  Okay, so we’re not talking Carnival like the one in Rio. Honestly, would you want to dance around the cobbled streets, half-naked, peely-wally white, in sub-zero temperatures?  I think not.  If you want the whole historical background of the Danish festival, I suggest you go google or take a peek at Wikipedia.  Here’s what I think you need to know:

  • it’s celebrated seven weeks before Easter Sunday (6 March 2011, 19 February 2012)
  • it’s the highlight of the kids’ year (aside from Christmas), it’s basically the Danish equivalent of Halloween
  • kids wear fancy dress (which, for the under 6s, is invariably a superhero or something pink and princessy)
  • the kids make (or buy or receive) a fastelavnsris  [don’t know what that is?  Hey, you’re in luck!  Keep reading for instructions on making your own…]
  • you eat special fastelavnsboller  [sticky buns, duh, of course there’s food involved!]


There are tons of parties where the kids get a chance to slå katten af tønden (literally ‘hit the cat out of the barrel’).  Schools and kindergartens devote a whole day to the celebrations.  And if your child goes to scouts or football practice, there will also be a party organised there.  Not to mention events organised by public libraries, museums, local businesses and supermarkets…  A tønde (large barrel, similar to a piñata) is filled with sweets and fruit.  Much more politically correct than filling it with live cats, as they used to do up until the early 1800s…  The barrel is then strung up and the kids take it in turns to whack it with a bat.

The boy or girl who knocks out the bottom of the barrel is crowned as Kattedronningen (the Queen of the Cats).  The person who smashes the very last piece of the barrel is crowned Kattekongen (the King of the Cats).  A huge honour.  You get to wear a little golden crown for your efforts.  And be the envy of your friends for years afterwards.

Here’s how to make your very own Danish Carnival essential – a Fastelavnsris.  Which is sure to make you the envy of your friends! ;)

You’ll need:

  • a few bare branches (should be easy to find at this time of year…)
  • sellotape, thread, ribbon or wire
  • coloured carton or paper
  • bits n’ bobs
  • some small sweets (wrapped, if possible)

Take a small handful of branches and secure them at one end.  You can tie a piece of ribbon around, if you want to pretty up the ‘handle’.  Use wire, sellotape or thread to stick on the sweets.

Cut out a few shapes from coloured card and stick on. Traditional shapes are cats (remember those live cats that used to be put inside the barrels…), barrels and masks.  Go mad with glue sticks and sequins…  The branches should be looking quite colourful now.  Add a few coloured feathers if you have them.  And streamers.  Stick on some Carlsberg or Tuborg bottle tops – a great way to recyle them?!  Or whatever takes your fancy…

When you’re all done the fastelavnsris can either be hung up in a hallway or stuck in a vase until it’s ready to be eaten.  Back in the ‘good old days’, it was used for flogging.  Eek!

God fastelavn!  Happy Carnival!  🙂

By Diane • February 1, 2012
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  1. Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:34 pm by Martin | Permalink

    Hi Diane

    I really love Fastelavnsboller. I hope that it is alright that I correct you a little.

    The Danish schools’ winter holiday week begins the 19th in the northern of Jutland, but in the rest of Denmark it is the last day of the Danish schools’ winter holiday week

  2. Posted January 10, 2013 at 5:05 pm by Susan | Permalink

    Hi Diane,

    Thank you so much for your very informative post! My son is in 4th grade and has chosen to study Denmark and we need to make a barrel piñata for his project for studying holidays. This was wonderful!!

    Thank you

  3. Posted January 10, 2013 at 5:31 pm by Diane | Permalink

    Hope your son’s project goes well! 🙂

  4. Posted February 20, 2014 at 5:58 pm by Louise | Permalink

    Hi Diane

    Is fastelavn just celebrated by young children or do older children and adults get involved in the festivities too?

  5. Posted February 20, 2014 at 6:24 pm by Diane | Permalink

    Hi Louise! Mainly for the youngest kids. From the 5th grade it doesn’t seem to be so “cool”! 😉

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Hello January! – Diane's Daily Denmark on January 15, 2013 at 11:40 am

    […] Happy New Year!  After a whirlwind month of December (did you catch my Danish Christmas Advent Calendar?), the kids are now well back into school and activities, Herr and Frue Danmark are back to work and life is back to normal.  A nice, quiet month. Though, by golly, the shops and bakers are already trying to get more money out of us turning our attention to Fastelavn (Carnival).  Which – you will remember – has very little in common with hot temperatures and samba dancing…    If you really want to get started early, go ready my DIY FASTELAVN – CARNIVAL IN COPENHAGEN […]

  2. […] DS13 (dear son,aged 13) cycled home like lightning on Thursday – proffering homemade fastelavnsboller (Danish carnival buns) he had made in hjemkundskab (home economics class).  [Want some background on Danish carnival?  Check out my DIY Fastelavn! ] […]

  3. […] know, I’m constantly amused and amazed by the quirky traditions of those crazy Danes.  From hitting barrels with baseball bats to sending secret snowdrop letters, tradesmen removing their shoes and marcipan pigs… […]

Diane's Daily Denmark


Never too serious but always informative, Diane is a Scot who moved to Denmark in 1998. Author of "Death comes to Strandvig", a Scandinavian cozy crime novel. Mentor at FlyladyPremium ...