If you live outside of Denmark you might know today as Shrove TuesdayMardi Gras, Carnival, Pancake Day, or a number of other names. In Denmark, it is known as Fastelavn.

The day falls on the eve of Ash Wednesday, 46 days before Easter, which means that it is only a coincidence that it coincides with Valentine’s Day this year! As with other traditions, this day represents a day of fun and indulgence before the days of repentance and sacrifice during Lent.

In preparation for the coming days, a special treat is common around these days: Fastelavnsboller. This consists of a puff pastry bun filled with cream or jam and decorated with icing that you can find in most shops during this time.


The main activity of the day is ‘hitting the cat out of the barrel’. In the olden times a real black cat was placed in a barrel that people hit till it broke, hence the name. This was thought to keep evil away. Luckily, this is no longer done. I cannot see it going down well with people nowadays!

Today this involves kids dressing up and hitting a barrel filled with sweets until the barrel breaks open, releasing all the goodies for the kids. Like the Mexican piñata but without the blindfold. This explains the sudden appearance of many ill-made barrels in the shops. The first time I had seen this activity it involved a group of wet-suit clad adults jumping from a bridge into the river below and attempting to hit a barrel…brrr!

Fastelavn in Ribe

If you want to dress up and try to hit the cat out of the barrel yourself Buddy Holly is throwing a Fastelavnsfest on Saturday.

Fastelavnsboller photo from emme-dk

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