mercredi 20 février 2013


"Hit it harder", yelled the man, "harder!" The young costumed girl, looking a bit mystified, took another swing at the barrel with her bat, in the hopes of breaking the wooden exterior. The next young hopeful was waiting behind her, impatiently waiting her turn for a swing at the barrel. The barrel swayed in the wind; the man pulled on the rope holding up the barrel.

Dragør shoreline. Author of photo: Dennation.

So what's this about, you may ask? Fastelavn is the Danish word for carnival. This may conjure up images of Rio's colourful carnival. No such thing here. Only children dress-up in Halloween-style costumes. The city of Copenhagen does celebrate a Rioesque carnival, though, but in May, not February.

Cute house in Dragør. Author of photo: Den Nation.

Historically people used to hit a wooden barrel (looks like a wine barrel) with a black cat in it to ward off evil. Nowadays mostly children hit a hanging barrel as if it were a piñata. The barrel no longer contains a cat but some candy or a prize. Most of the children are dressed up as if it were Halloween. The person who breaks the barrel is hailed the king or queen.

A barrel waiting to be smashed to bits. Author of photo: Den Nation.

There is even a special Danish pastry associated with Fastelavn. Fastelavnboller are sweet, round balls sometimes covered with icing that are filled with whipped cream. The cream is usually white, but you can find fastelavnboller filled with chocolate whipped cream and coffee-flavoured whipped cream. I have yet to try them and unfortunately I don't have a picture. I better hurry as they are everywhere now, but I have this feeling that come March 1st they will disappear, just the Galette de Rois in France on February 1st.

We celebrated Fastelavn in Dragør, a tiny fishing village just outside of Copenhagen. Starting at midday, the town has a team of horseman riding around town singing traditional Fastelavn songs and drinking hot drinks. The townspeople would follow them around town singing and drinking with them. While all this was happening, there were several rounds of children hitting barrels. The entire celebration culminated with the horsemen gathering in park to hit a barrel. Each horseman would charge at the barrel, giving the barrel a big wack everytime they passed. After about 30 minutes, the barrel was finally broken and a queen was crowned. I somehow managed to take home the last piece of barrel that was broken as a souvenir. The atmosphere was really lively; children were sledding down the hills in the park and the adults were drinking hot together.

You can just make out the horseman about to hit the barrel. Author of photo: Den nation.

I was enchanted by the village church. From the outside the church looked ordinary but the inside, wow! It was just as I pictured a Scandinavian church would look like. Each pew had a candle attached to it, the wooden panelling was intricately carved and there was a miniature boat hanging from the timber roof frame!

Viking church in Dragør. Author of photo: Den nation.

The hanging boat! Author of photo: Den nation.

Fastelavn was really something special for me. Maybe this kind of event would really bore some people, but I like learning about traditions that are part of another country's culture and history. I never knew something like the Danish Fastelavn existed before coming here and I probably never would have gotten to experience this if we had stayed in France. I can't wait to learn more!

The horsmen lined up for singing and drinks. The musicians are sitting in the carriage.
Author of photo: Den Nation.

6 commentaires:

  1. Fastelavn... sounds like "carnival" all scrambled up ;-)

    It's cool you were able to participate in local celebrations. Part of the cultural immersion!

    1. Danish is too difficult to pronounce. The v in Fastelavn is pronounced like a u! Actually, I would pronounce it like ow (response to sudden pain).

      I hope to participate in Copenhagen's carnival in May (I just hope it won't be raining, which it often does here).

      I love experiencing things that I would never even imagined existed! It was a total surprise.

  2. Looks like a lot of fun! That viking church looks really cool, and I love the second photo so so much - something about that yellow house against the grey sky...

    1. I am really enjoying Denmark's cute houses! And the colours... amazing!

  3. That sounds like a lot of fun! It's always amazing to get to discover another culture's traditions. And that church is incredible. The inside really is exactly what you would expect but it must be amazing to see in person.

  4. It really was a surprise, especially since the outside was so ordinary. Most of the churches in Bordeaux are gothic and I find them a bit depressing. I actually prefer the Romanesque churches of la Charente and la Charente-Maritime.