The Thinking of Speaking
Issue #13 January / February 2015
by Sonja Krüger
January / February 2015 | 

Fastelavn is a very old traditional Danish celebration. In early days, Fastelavn was the beginning of a time of fasting to prepare oneself for Lent by eating very little. Fastelavn was also a time to have a lot of fun: playing games, dressing up and partying. Now, most people no longer fast on Fastelavn. However, children still wear costumes and play the traditional Fastelavn games. One is "knocking the cat out of the barrel" game. In medieval times, this game was taken very seriously, and involved placing a live cat in a barrel. The barrel was then beaten with sticks until it broke and the cat escaped. The cat was then chased out of the town, and it was believed that it would take the collective bad luck and evil spirits of the town with it.

Now, fortunately for cats, the game is symbolic and no longer includes any live animals. Instead, a barrel (usually with a drawing of a black cat on it) is filled with candy and hung from a ceiling or a tree. Children then take turns hitting it with a wooden stick or club until the barrel finally breaks. The child that makes the barrel finally break (hence, "knocking the cat out of the barrel") is then crowned "The King (or Queen) of Cats" and is given a golden paper crown.

One of the popular Fastelavn treats is a special bun that is covered with icing. This is also incorporated in the tradition by ways of the children singing a song "demanding" the buns from their neighbours and "threatening" to make trouble if they don't get any. They also collect candy or money, which is similar to the American Halloween.

Celebrations - Fastelavn
Writer: Sonja Krüger
Tomasz Sienicki: Fastelavnsboller
Petey: Denmark skyline; Children hitting cat box
• "Fastelavn" Wikipedia <>
• "Fastelavn – The Danish Carnival" LexioPhiles <>

All images are Copyright - CC BY-SA (Creative Commons Share Alike) by their respective owners, except for Petey, which is Public Domain (PD) or unless otherwise noted.


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