How to Celebrate Fastelavn

The Danish holiday of Fastelavn is this Sunday, but rather than wait until it’s over, I thought it would be best to write something about it beforehand. That way, my fellow international students have a chance to get in on the fun.

I’m not going to bother with an exhaustive description of Fastelavn since plenty have already been writtenThe Local has a great overview of the holiday, and Copenhagen Tales adds a few extra details along with some tempting photos of fastelavnsboller, the pastry buns that are traditionally eaten as part of the celebration.

I’ve been seeing fastelavnsboller in bakeries for a while now, possibly even as long ago as December. Like all seasonal treats, they show up earlier and earlier every year, much to the dismay of traditionalists. I haven’t been brave enough to try one yet… but there’s still time.

Now that Halloween is becoming popular in Denmark, I wonder what’s going to happen to Fastelavn. The holidays have their own distinct histories, but the main activities look similar: young kids dress up in costumes and walk around demanding sweets in exchange for not causing any trouble. On Halloween, it’s candy (slik eller ballade = trick or treat), whereas on Fastelavn it’s buns—or money. Yep, money. One tradition is to give the kids some small change as they walk around rattling little coin buckets. Some people find this a bit embarrassing, like their children are begging door-to-door, but I bet the kids think it’s great! It might be interesting to quiz your Danish friends: “Did your parents let you go out and rasle (rattle/rustle) when you were young?”

Photo 02-02-2018, 15.23.37
The costumes in the background look familiar, but you won’t find tønder on display for Halloween.

So is this holiday even relevant to us university students? For the most part, Fastelavn is for kids and pastry-lovers, but of course students will find any excuse to throw a party. There is a Fastelavn event at the Student House on Tuesday (International Night), and this weekend there is a Fastelavn-themed beer pong night at the youth hostel as well as a Fastelavn pub crawl organized by a downtown bar. The weather right now is bleak, and the holidays are a distant memory, so I understand why people are looking for a spot of brightness and an excuse for celebration.


About the author: Phoebe is a Californian who fell in love with Denmark and decided to come back by any means necessary. Currently, those means include studying for an M. A. in Linguistics.

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