Viking-mask (The Århus-mask)
Fastelavn/Shrove Tide was originally a pagan spring-and fertility feast. Later it was added to the church tradition, but during the Reformation in 1536 the clergy made an attempt to abolish it - in vain. They considered it to be too violent and too heathen. The Fastelavn-custom arrived in Denmark in the end of the 1300s with German merchants and workmen. The name Fastelavn comes from the German Faste-Abend, meaning a night for fasting - the night before the beginning of the Lent which is seven weeks before Easter.
After the Middle Ages the Fastelavn-celebrations were less heathen. In the country the guys on the farms gathered in a group on horseback. They were dressed in their finest clothes and the girls had decorated their favorite guy with silk ribbons on their shirts and hats. Everyone was dressed as either a beggar, a bitch or a clown. The clown wore a white shirt with tassels and a half-mask and a special hat. The beggar was dressed as an old man, and the bitch was a man dressed in a woman's clothes. The guys rode from farm to farm with musicians in front, and when they came to a farm they danced with the girls to the music. They were treated with beer and snaps, and the farm-wife gave them a basket with eggs for their special egg-drinks in the evening.
Viking-mask from Sweden
During the 1900s Fastelavn was mostly for children who went from house to house with a collecting-box, singing a song and begging for buns and money.The children were dressed in imaginative clothes, and their faces were painted or they wore face-masks. This was a tradition on Fastelavns- Monday, and it's still popular to dress up in fantastic dresses. The tradition with the collection-box has almost disappeared.
A Danish Fastelavns-Song: (the children sing if the don't get any buns then they'll make some trouble. )
Fastelavn er mit navn
boller vil jeg have,
hvis jeg ingen boller får
så laver jeg ballade
Boller op, boller ned,
boller i min mave,
hvis jeg ingen boller får
så laver jeg ballade.
Viking-mask from Skern, West Jutland
Another tradition with origin in ancient traditions was to 'beat the cat out of the barrel'. In the Middle Ages a black cat was considered an evil creature. A living cat was put into a barrel, and then the barrel was beaten into pieces, which meant that they were chasing the winter away. Today the custom is still in use, but the barrel is filled with fruit and candy and sometimes a paper figure of a black cat. Children in gaily coloured Fastelavns-costumes line up in a row and beat the barrel. When the barrel finally falls down the last one who gave it a beat is the cat-king or the cat-queen and gets a golden paper crown on his/her head.
Another custom came to Denmark in the 1700s where a birch-twig was used to 'whip' the women. It was some kind of fertility-rite. The women then thanked the men by giving them buns and cakes. In the 1900s the Fastelavns-twig was decorated twith multicoloured tissue paper strings and used by children to 'beat up' their parents, who then gave a breakfast with delicious Fastelavns-buns. Today the Fastelavns-twig is only used as a gift or as an extra decoration at home , decorated with candy and funny toy things.
The custom about the Fastelavns-buns will probably never disappear. Those buns are extremely popular, and the bakers already start selling them after Christmas. Buns with creme, jam, marzipan or whipped cream - and with pink, white or chocolate icing - or icing sugar on top. Very delicious.
Pictures of viking masks from the archaeological magazine 'Skalk', Højbjerg, Århus