Scandinavia’s Mardi Gras – How to celebrate Fastelavn like a Scandi!

by Scandinavian mum


Scandinavia’s Mardi Gras ‘Fastelavn’ is celebrated on the Sunday or Monday before Ash Wednesday, based on the Roman Catholic tradition of celebrating the days before Lent. It’s above everything a celebration for the children, with a carnival, sweet treats and decorations. Read on to see how to celebrate Fastelavn like a Scandinavian!

The Scandinavian celebration Fastelavn means the fast-evening, or the day before Lent. This is a costume party, similar to Halloween, often celebrated in nurseries and family homes. In Denmark, there’s party games such as smashing of a barrel, which contains sweets and the child that succeeds in open the barrel is named fastelavn king or queen.

In the old days, a live cat was placed inside the barrel. When the barrel gave in, the frightened creature was chased out of town and presumed to take with it evil spirits. Today, fortunately the live cat has been replaced with cat drawing on the barrel…

Fastelavnsris, which is a branch adorned with colourful decoration of feathers, paper ornaments and so on. This is a old fertility ritual, which changed into flogging Christianity pious people used to flog their children[citation needed] on Good Friday to remind them of the sufferings of Christ on the cross. The ritual gradually changed and 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.

Today the purpose of the Fastelavnsris is purely decorative.

In Denmark and Norway a popular baked good associated with the day is Fastelavnsbolle ‘fastelavns sweet bun. This is a creamfilled sweet cardamon bun, dusted with icing. You can find our recipe for fastelavnsbolle, here.

In Sweden fastelavnsbolle is called Semla. The oldest version of the Semla was a plain bread bun served in a bowl of warm milk, originally eaten only on Shrove Tuesday. However, with the arrival of the Protestant Reformation, the Swedes stopped observing a strict fasting for Lent and the Semla became instead a traditional dessert throughout Winter and early Spring.

So where as the Danes and the Norwegians will more or less only have Fastelavnsbolle on Fastelavns day, the Swedes have Semlor available in shops and bakeries every day from shortly after Christmas until Easter!


Did you know, each Swede consumes on average four to five bakery-produced semlor each year, in addition to any that are homemade. The above buns are from Scandinavian Kitchen.

As we are from Norway we will be celebrating Fastelavn this Sunday, with carnival, Fastelavnsris and Fastelavnsboller. Will you be joining us in our celebration? xxx

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