Costumes, Cakes and the Cat Queen or Cat King

Article by: Penny Jackson, guide at Copenhagen Free Walking Tours

The photos are taken by: Laura Ioana V guide and resident foodie @lauraioanaeats

Fastelavn is Danish Carnival and is usually celebrated the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday. This year Fastelavn falls on the 14th of February, but one of the traditions of the holiday starts in the middle of January and is one of our favorite things to look forward to during the gray winter months. Drum roll please....fastelavnsboller! Let's dive in to some of these traditions.

Slå Katten af Tønden 

One of the most random of traditions, and my personal favorite, is the naming of the Kattedronning or Kattekonge. This tradition dates back to the 1500s during the reign of Christian II and practiced through the 1800s. Historically, a black cat was placed in a barrel and the barrel was beaten until it broke open. Why, do you ask? It was superstition that if you beat a barrel with a cat inside, you will ward off evil spirits! The cat inside the barrel is not killed, but probably highly traumatised. The person who breaks the barrel releasing the cat is named the Kattedroning or Kattekonge, Cat Queen or Cat King. Not only, do you hold the title of Kattedronning or Kattekonge for a year, but the title also went along with a full year of tax exemption!

Luckily no cats are involved in this tradition any more, it is now the Danish equivalent of a pinata. A barrel is filled with candy and a picture of a cat is posted on the barrel. Children take turns hitting the barrel until the candy pours out. Whoever breaks the barrel releasing the candy is crowned Cat Queen or Cat King and everyone gets to enjoy the candy spoils, everyone wins...especially cats.

Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Songs and Costumes

The tradition of costumes dates back to the processions on Fastelavns day. Unmarried adults dressed up in costumes and visited houses all throughout the city. They sang, they danced, they enjoyed the sweet buns topped with icing and filled with cream to celebrate. Today, children dress in costumes and walk door to door singing this song: 

Shrovetide is my name, buns I want. If I get no buns, then I make trouble. Buns up, buns down buns in my tummy. If I get no buns, then I make trouble

Similar to traditions in the United States of trick or treating, kids will sing this song in hopes of getting a fastelavnsboller.

Fastelavnsris

This odd tradition makes Fastelavn even more memorable for children and very glad that it is far removed from its original customs. Today, children flog their parents with a fastelavnsris to wake them up on Fastelavns Sunday. Fastelavnsris is usually a bunch of twigs or sticks and they are decorated. This tradition stems from the darker aspects of religious piety. Children were flogged on Good Friday as a reminder of Christ’s suffering on the cross. Later it shifted to flogging young women and childless couples. It then became common for a young man to carry his fastelavnsris and gently flog young women he fancies on the street. It was much later that it became a tradition for children to flog their parents and the reward for which is a fastelavnsboller. 

Fastelavnsboller

Why go through so much trouble for this fastelavnsboller? This is a special treat for the season and most bakeries today release their own version of a fastelavnsboller. Local tour guides Laura, Rikke and Penny have set out to find the best fastelavnsboller in Copenhagen.  Having tried many different fastelavnsboller from popular bakers including Hart Bakery, Meyers Bakery, Juno the Bakery, Anderson Bakery, Andersen & Maillard, La Glace Conditori, Alice Cph and we are still undecided on a clear winner. In Denmark, they are made with puff pastry, whipped cream, jam or compote and icing on top. Our neighbors Sweden, Finland and Norway also serve their own versions of fastelavnsboller.

Let us know in the comments, which one looks the best!

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