Sunday, February 19, 2012

Danish Halloween

One Sunday two years ago I came across swimmers who had cut a hole in the ice in among the boats in Nyhavn.In a country where people take pride in swimming all year round I didn't think much of it. That is, until I saw a small barrel being strung up and the participants hitting at it with a stick!

And so I got to know about Fastelavn, a Nordic tradition similar to Halloween. The day, which always occurs seven weeks before Easter, is sometimes described as the Nordic Halloween as children dress up in costumes and get treats.

What I saw was ‘hitting the cat out of the barrel’ (slå katten af tønden). In old days there was an actual black cat inside the barrel, and beating the barrel was superstitiously considered a safeguard against evil.

Today, the cat has been relaced by oranges and sweets. Other Fastelavn traditions include eating the special Fastelavn bun with cream inside and icing on top, and also making a ‘Fastelavnsris’, a kind of whip made out of twigs that you decorate with paper cats and other things.