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The happiest nation on earth: is it too good to be true? Spoiler: yes. An architecture studentโ€™s experiences with those crazy Danishes in Copenhagen while studying at the Kunstakademiets Arkitektskole.

Fastelavn: You Don't Even Want to Know

Okay, so maybe there are some weird holidays in Canada and the States. They're mostly divorced from their religious meanings by several generations, and commercialized beyond all reason, but don't they seem normal?

As it turns out, holidays that keep some of their religious meaning are really, fricken, scary.

Try Fastelavn. It's like Danish Halloween, in um, February. Actually, it's on February 14. So they had to hijack Valentine's day. But don't worry, there are still virgins involved.

Basically Fastelavn harks from pagan times, with some interesting Christian rites thrown in. Such as the practice of stuffing yourself with as much food as possible before a period of fasting--'Lent'. 

Of course, no one really fasts for Lent here in this country, but HEY. Why mess up a good thing? ;)

It's a dim shadow of the 'Carnival' of Venice fame, with a lot more violence and whipped cream. You get dressed up in a costume, and go around singing the Fastelavn song, sweetly demanding candy, money, or treats, and offering threats if you don't get any.

From what I can gather from housewife.dk--a real site, no word of a lie; because the little children will be going around for 'several hours' in the 'biting cold--the coldest time of year', they invented special 'hot-lingerie' for the children. I think this is supposed to 'thermal underwear', but hot-lingerie just sounds way better. 

They have several suggestions for costumes for 'you and your horse'. 

Pippi Longstocking and horse

Pippi Longstocking is a fun and colorful figure. At the little-known dress, long socks in different colors, the small worn, black ankle boots and then of course the red braids, which is opposite to the sides. Maybe you're lucky enough to have a dotted horse, but otherwise you can make a white blanket with black dots. If your horse is white, it is also possible to paint black dots directly on the horse. Choosing the latter, you must of course make sure to use some color, as the horse can tolerate and which can be removed again.

Clumsy Hans and goat

Klodshans with goat is also a possibility. You dress like Klodshans wearing a hat, shirt, vest, pants that just cover the knees, stockings and clogs. Your horse dressed up as a goat. Put a couple of homemade horn on the horse's forehead and homemade goat beard dressed in head during muzzle. The horse should preferably be white or gray, and a thick winter coat is certainly no barrier.

Barbie and Barbie Horse

So, it is no more girlish: on with the blond wig, lots of makeup, bulging breasts and a nice, big dress. The horse should preferably have wavy mane and tail to mark the occasion, and remember that the final can not have too much pink and mauve equipment. The effect is best if you have a nice and elegant horse - preferably white.

Bond man and cow

Dress like a real peasant wearing checkered shirt, overalls, rubber boots, straw hat and a straw in the corner of her mouth. Horse - preferably red or black and white mottled - have attached a homemade, large, pink udders, so it looks like a truly dairy cow.

It's great how they give you 'preferences' for what color your horse should be. It's something I was wondering about, obviously. Owning horses and all, as everyone does here.  And good to know that Old Shaggy has no impediments just cause he's got lots of hair. He can be a billy goat.

What? It's just a horse.

Then we have some popular suggestions for costumes, if you don't have a horse (you unfortunate dolt, you). For your cultural edification, I present a comprehensive list of favorites:

  • Egon Olsen
  • Flovmand
  • Gladstone Gander
  • Hans Christian Andersen (Like we didn't expect that!)
  • Lustig - I have no Danish references for this.... but I did come up with either a disturbing German cartoon, or a famous con-man.
  • 'the man with the scythe' - I think this is supposed to refer to the Grim Reaper?
  • Olaf Sand
  • Lag Fine - Unknown as yet
  • Stampe - Ditto with this one
  • Yvonne Jensen (can't be sure on this one...)
  • ass beast. Yeah, I don't even want to try to google this... uhhh... 'donkey'?
  • Handball Player
  • Oil Sheik (I can't believe there's an actual costume for this...) (see also: this) (and this. apparently quite a popular costume here??)
  • Rummand - I think it means astronaut based on the photos I found...
  • Viking
  • Flødebolle
  • Vindrueklase
  • Beer cans, beer bottle
  • Black People (are these the 'ooga booga's' you were talking about, Babs...?)
  • Kalenderlys
  • If that's not enough, why not go as your FAVORITE character from Terkel! STEWART STARDUST!
  • You can also try pippe langstrømpe, a popular alternative.

It wouldn't be a holiday if there weren't a special, fattening treat to go with it. I hereby present: Fastelavnsboller.

What else?

slå katten af tønden ("hit the cat out of the barrel")

Today, the happy cat acts as the icon of the carnival. Previously, it was not so cheerful...

Back in the golden days of Danish Fastelavn, you used to round up a black cat and put it in a barrel. Then you beat the barrel with a stick, until it broke apart and the cat escaped. All the villagers would then chase the cat out of the town, the cat representing ill-fortune, weak beer, and all things bad.

Of course (of course!) nowadays, it's just symbolic. It's now a barrel-shaped 'pinata' with candy, and a picture of a cat. If you are the first one to break the bottom of the barrel, you are crowned king/queen of cats. 

"Lemme at it!"

Another popular custom, as you can imagine, is when the kids 'symbolically' flog their parents with fastelavnsris ('carnival rod') on Easter Sunday.

Saith altomkost.dk about the Carnival Rod:

Carnival rod - rice fertility 
The tradition of carnival rod is old. Carnival rod had no candy and decorations on the rod, but was used to whip each other. In 1800 the figure could find that bachelors and maidens "offer each other good morning" by Rise up and sprinkle ashes on each other. It was about fertility, for the beating with the fresh branches, whose buds are just about to jump out, you could perhaps transfer some of the emerging fertility for the "victim". Furthermore, it is one of the kind of "teasing look" that people think is nice to maintain.

Today, the tradition of carnival rod probably best reserved for children. Children must rise parents out of bed carnival tomorrow and sing "Shrove Tuesday, is my name." This means that children put on the quilt, the parents stand up and hopefully bake some delicious Shrovetide buns for them.

Saith Wikipedia:

There is probably no doubt the custom originates from an old fertility ritual, which has been absorbed into Christianity. The more serious one is that after the reformation, particularly pious people used to flog their children on Good Friday to remind them of the sufferings of Christ on the cross. A similar custom is mentioned in the book "Frauenzimmerlexicon", published in 1715 in Leipzig (Germany), which describes how bachelors and virgins "bid each other goodmorning" by flogging each other and spreading ashes on each other.

Earlier, it was mainly the young women and the infertile who were flogged. It was also common that a young man would carry his "fastelavnsris" and (of course gently) strike at young women he met on the street. Later it became the children's special right to flog their parents on this day. In any case, the reward given for the flogging would be a fastelavnsbolle.

Virgins, superstition, fatty foods, and strange costumes. It has all the makings of a commercial success!

Anyways. This along with Zwarte Piet and Sankt Nicolas in Amsterdam, hold the current 'Strangest Holiday Traditions' award. It's going to be a hard act to follow.

Stephanie1 Comment