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Fastelavn in Denmark: A Carnival Experience Like No Other

Carnival is a Christian holiday that’s celebrated in numerous countries, so it should come as no surprise that Denmark—a nation with a roughly 75% Christian population and a long history of spirituality—observes it, too. 

Called Fastelavn in Denmark, this holiday shares many things in common with Carnival celebrations in other countries as well as Western Halloween traditions. But there are some…fascinating…components of the Danish version that may surprise you! 

Are you ready to delve into this fun holiday and pick up some new Danish vocabulary?

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1. What is Fastelavn? 

A Sketch of a Danish Carnival Celebration

Fastelavn is the Danish version of the traditionally Catholic holiday of Carnival. It takes place seven weeks prior to Easter and, while not a public holiday, is widely celebrated throughout the country. The Danish Fastelavn has less of a religious connotation than Carnival traditions in other countries do, with a greater focus on festivities and fun.

Fastelavn History

The Christian Carnival holiday began in the Middle Ages, though it likely stemmed from pagan traditions. Denmark was likely introduced to this holiday via immigrants and missionaries, and over time, adapted the holiday to suit its Lutheran Christian religiosity (which was adopted in 1536). 

In many nations, Carnival began as a way to both indulge before the forty-day Lenten fasting season and to use up any perishable food items. This is why the heavy consumption of pastries is so popular on Carnival—these sweet treats were traditionally made in order to make use of ingredients like butter and eggs that would otherwise have gone bad. 

    → If you would like to learn the names of different religions in Danish, then head over to our Religion vocabulary list!

2. When is Fastelavn in Denmark? 

Because the Fastelavn date is determined by the dates of Easter and Lent, it varies from year to year. Here are the holiday dates for the next ten years. 

  • 2021: February 14
  • 2022: February 27
  • 2023: February 19
  • 2024: February 11
  • 2025: March 2
  • 2026: February 15
  • 2027: February 7
  • 2028: February 27
  • 2029: February 11
  • 2030: March 3

3. Fastelavn Traditions & Festivities

A Sketch of a Danish Carnival Barrel

Oftentimes, Fastelavn is compared to Halloween—and for good reasons! This holiday is primarily geared toward children, who dress up in costumes and ask their neighbors for sweets or money. If the words “Trick or Treat” mean anything to you, then you’ll resonate with the Danish tradition of singing the Fastelavn song Candy or Trouble (Slik Eller Ballade). Dressed in the forklædning (disguise) of their choice, the children sing this song as a playful warning that they’ll cause trouble if they don’t receive sweets! (Talk about hangry…)

Popular Fastelavn costumes include a fe (fairy), princesse (princess), superhelt (superhero), or other eventyrfigur (fairytale character). 

On the morning of Fastelavn, a common tradition among children is to make a Fastelavnsris (Carnival whip) using twigs or branches, and to decorate it with things like feathers or eggshells. With the Fastelavnsris, they whip or “flog” their parents awake—sort of like children in the U.S. waking their parents up on Christmas morning, right? This sets the tone for the day! 

In a fashion similar to hitting a piñata, children beat a barrel full of candy. Children take turns hitting the barrel, and two winners are named: the kattedronning (cat queen) who causes all of the candy to spill out and the kattekonge (cat king) who finishes completely breaking open the barrel. 

Because the Carnival holiday is traditionally associated with the Lenten fast as well as wintertime food scarcity, food is a major part of this holiday. The most popular Fastelavn food is Shrovetide buns, which are a sweet pastry containing some type of frosting or glaze on top and a delicious cream or jam filling in the middle. These Fastelavn buns can also be sprinkled with confectioners sugar or have additional sweet toppings. Many bakeries even give customers the option to customize their own Shrovetide bun based on their personal preferences.


4. About the Cat…

A Black Cat Against a White Cackground

You may be wondering why the children who break the Carnival barrel and spill the candy are called the “cat king” and “cat queen.” What do cats have to do with Fastelavn or candy, for that matter?

If you’re familiar with Halloween, you’ll know that many people are wary of spotting a sort kat (black cat) on this day. But even still, you may be surprised to hear about the following Fastelavn tradition, which was quite popular in the past. 

Traditionally, the Fastelavn barrel contained an actual black cat, which was either beaten to death upon the barrel breaking open or allowed to skimper off. But don’t worry! This morbid tradition has come to an end, kept alive only through the use of black cat stickers on barrels.

    → Are you an animal-lover? Then you can hop over to our Animal Names vocabulary list to learn how to talk about your favorite animals!

5. Useful Vocabulary for Fastelavn in Denmark

A Carnival Bun, also Called a Fastelavn Bun

Here are some useful words and phrases associated with Carnival in Denmark: 

  • Fastelavn (Carnival) – proper noun
  • Fastelavnsbolle (Carnival bun) – common noun
  • Fastelavnsris (Carnival whip) – neuter noun
  • Forklædning (Disguise) – common noun
  • Fe (Fairy) – common noun
  • Princesse (Princess) – common noun
  • Superhelt (Superhero) – common noun
  • Eventyrfigur (Fairytale character) – common noun
  • Kattekonge (Cat king) – common noun
  • Kattedronning (Cat queen) – common noun
  • Fastelavnstønde (Carnival barrel) – common noun
  • Rasle (Rattle) – verb
  • Ringridning (Tilting) – common noun
  • Fastelavnssoldater (Carnival soldiers) – common noun
  • Sort kat (Black cat) – proper noun

If you want to practice your pronunciation, make sure to visit our Carnival vocabulary list, where you can hear recorded audio pronunciations of each word. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, Fastelavn is a fun holiday for children and adults alike. From adorable costumes to tasty treats, there’s really something for everyone. Do you celebrate Carnival in your country, or maybe a similar holiday? Tell us about it in the comments! 

If you would like to learn more about Danish culture and holidays, we highly recommend the following pages on DanishClass101.com

This barely scratches the surface of what DanishClass101 has to offer our students! From themed vocabulary lists to audio and video lessons on a range of topics, there’s something for every learner at every level to enjoy. It’s our goal to help you become a confident Danish speaker with the cultural knowledge you need to make the most of your newfound language skills. 

Until next time, happy learning. If you can, enjoy a Shrovetide bun for us! 😉

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Premium PLUS: The Golden Ticket for Language-Learning

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“Where do you live?”

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“I live in Tokyo.”

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Premium PLUS offers various features to expand learners’ vocabulary, including Free Gifts of the Month. DanishClass101’s free gifts for April 2020 included an e-book with “400 Everyday Phrases for Beginners,” and the content is updated every month. When I download free resources like this, I find opportunities to use them with co-teachers, friends, or my language tutors.

An effective way to learn vocabulary is with SRS flashcards. SRS is a system designed for learning a new word and reviewing it in varying time intervals.

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eunhaeng gyejwaleul mandeulgo sip-eoyo.

I want to open a bank account.

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It’s impossible for me to imagine my continuous progress with Japanese and Korean without Premium PLUS. Everything—from the SRS flashcards to my language teachers—makes learning languages enjoyable and clear-cut.

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Subscribe to Posted by DanishClass101.com in Danish Language, Danish Online, Feature Spotlight, Learn Danish, Site Features, Speak Danish, Team DanishClass101

Sankthansaften: Celebrating St. John’s Eve in Denmark



What are your favorite things to do during summer? Are there any special holidays or festivals where you live?

Midsummer in Denmark means warm weather, lots of great seasonal food, and burning witches over a bonfire (it’s not what it sounds like!).

In this article, you’ll learn about St. John’s Eve traditions in Denmark, discover what this holiday used to look like, and pick up some useful summertime vocabulary.

Let’s get started.

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1. What is St. John’s Eve in Denmark?


What we know as St. John’s Eve today was originally a pagan holiday that started in Germany. The Germans of the time believed that there were witches that flew into Bloksbjerg in midsummer, during the evenings and nights. They would light bonfires to scare the witches and other onde ånder (evil spirits) away, and this turned into a tradition that later spread to Denmark and other neighboring countries.

Today, however, this holiday has been Christianized (as you may have guessed from the name!). The Danish St. John’s Eve commemorates the birth of John the Baptist, who was born about six months before Jesus, though many of the “pagan” traditions and connotations remain in place.

For instance, there’s still a focus on magi (magic) and evil spirits. The traditions associated with these aspects of the holiday are sometimes called St. John’s Eve voodoo, but we’ll talk about this soon.



2. When is St. John’s Eve?


A Field during Midsummer

St. John’s Eve takes place a few days after Midsommer (Midsummer) in Denmark, on June 23.

3. How is St. John’s Eve Celebrated?


St. John’s Bonfire

In medieval times, Danish midsummer traditions often involved the elders of the community gathering herbs that they would use to treat the ill throughout the year. In addition, people would hang garlands in the trees to catch the magic that came through.

Today, the most important midsummer tradition is the sankthansbål (St. John’s Eve bonfire). A heks (witch) doll is placed atop the bonfire, and many people associate this with the witch returning to Bloksbjerg. Typically, there’s a båltale (bonfire speech) given just before the burning, and you can be sure there’ll be plenty of eating, drinking, and singing once the fire is lit!

The most popular of Danish midsummer songs is called, simply, “The Midsummer Song.” This song was composed by Holger Drachmann originally, though many Danish people prefer the new 1980 version which has more rhythm. This version was created by the Danish band Shu-bi-dua. Of course, the older population often chooses to sing the traditional song instead.

A favorite activity for children is to bake dough on a stick right in the bonfire. The dough bakes into “twist bread,” which is a favorite food for many Danish holidays.

A popular St. John’s Eve celebration for girls and young women is to gather flowers to make a blomsterkrans (flower wreath) to wear on their head. However, this isn’t quite as common in Denmark as it is in Sweden.



4. Maren Spliid


Today, only a doll made to look like a witch is burned, but centuries ago, Denmark performed real “witch” burnings. In the 1500s and 1600s, Denmark and neighboring countries frequently had witch hunts and burned supposed witches at stake.

The most famous of these victims is Maren Spliid, a Danish woman who was accused of being a witch. She was tried twice, tortured, and then burned to death after being forced to admit she was a witch.

Today, there’s a memorial for Maren Spliid in Ribe.

5. Must-Know Vocabulary for St. John’s Eve


A Woman with a Flower Wreath on Her Head

Ready to review some of the vocabulary words from this article? Here’s a quick list!
  • Urtete — “Herb tea” [n. common]
  • Sankthansaften — “St. John’s Eve” [n. common]
  • Sankthansbål — “St. John’s bonfire” [n. neutral]
  • Båltale — “Bonfire speech” [n. common]
  • Afbrænding — “Burning” [n. common]
  • Midsommer — “Midsummer” [n. common]
  • Onde ånder — “Evil spirits”
  • Magi — “Magic” [n. common]
  • Solhverv — “Solstice” [n. neutral]
  • Kilde — “Spring” [n. common]
  • Blomsterkrans — “Flower wreath” [n. common]
  • Heks — “Witch” [n. Common]


To hear the pronunciation of each word, visit DanishClass101.com’s St. John’s Eve vocabulary list!

Final Thoughts


As you can see, Midsummer and St. John’s Eve traditions carry over old pagan traditions while mixing them with newer, more modern values. We hope you enjoyed learning about this fun holiday with us, and that you took away some valuable information.

Do you celebrate Midsummer or St. John’s Eve in your country? What are some popular summertime traditions there? Let us know in the comments!

To learn more about Danish culture and the language, see these free resources straight from our blog:


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Your Learning, Streamlined – The New Lesson Interface

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Your Learning, Streamlined – The New Lesson Interface

Your learning is about to get a whole lot easier.

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DanishClass101 is not really free, is it?
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    • An enlarged profile picture that gives your dashboard a unique and more personal feel.
    • A new layout for the “Latest News” feed to keep you informed on all of the most recent DanishClass101.com updates.
    • Bigger buttons to make it easier on the eyes. Locate your all of your lessons and materials faster than ever.

    Stay tuned, as more updates are being rolled out later in the month!

    Enjoy your new dashboard,

    Team DanishClass101

    P.S. Get Access To Our My Teacher Tool For Extra Help!
    As you may have noticed, on the left side of your dashboard is our My Teacher feature. This tool allows you to have 1-on-1 interaction with your very own personal teacher! This is only available to our Premium Plus subscribers, so be sure to upgrade if you want to take your studies to the next level!

    Click Here To Sign Up For Premium Plus Now!

    The Top 5 Reasons To Learn A New Language… NOW!

    Click Here To Learn Danish NOW!

    Are you currently debating whether or not to learn Danish?

    You aren’t alone. Learning a new language requires a huge investment of time, and often money as well. That’s why so many people are hesitant to spend the amount of effort required to become fluent in another language. However, learning a new language can be one of the most rewarding experiences in life and there are a number of reasons why you should start studying one… and start studying now!

    Click Here And Start Learning Danish With A FREE Account!

    Start Studying Danish Now!

    More Opportunities
    That’s right. It’s not rocket science. A new language can open up many new doors. You’re able to work in countries other than your own, leading to a world of new opportunities. It can also qualify you for many new jobs in your home country as well! There are tons of employers who look to hire multilingual professionals every year!

    Meeting New People
    This may be one of the most rewarding parts of learning a new language. You’ll be able to get to know speakers of other languages on a more personal level. Meeting people from around the world is one of the main reasons people begin to study a language, so don’t ever feel like making new friends isn’t a good enough reason to start studying!

    Exploring A Different Culture
    Whether you decide to live abroad, or you’re just taking a vacation, knowing the local language will give you the ability to better understand the people and culture of a different country. This can open your eyes to not only their country, but your country as well! You can understand how people see your home from their perspective.

    Stop Procrastinating And Start Learning! Sign Up For FREE Here!

    Start Studying Danish Now!

    Health Benefits
    Good news! Studying a new language actually comes with health benefits! Studying a new language helps keep your brain sharp! By studying every day, you’re helping your mind fight off the old age and stay fresh!

    Because It’s Fun
    When it comes down to it, learning a new language is just plain fun! There’s always something new to learn and the rewards are endless! Whether your goal is to meet new people or to get a job in a new country, language learning is something that is actually enjoyable!

    Start Learning Danish For Free By Clicking Here!

    There are millions of reasons to learn a new language, so what are you waiting for? Dive in head first and start studying with us! You can sign up for a FREE lifetime account and start achieving your Danish language goals today!

    Inside: Your New Free App, 34% OFF & Even More Danish Lessons in 2016

    Join the 34 Language Celebration & Get 34% OFF Premium

    Hello Listener,

    What say you to a cup of tea? How about…a new app, our 34 Language Celebration and 34% OFF Premium and MORE Danish lessons by real teachers? Bam! Didn’t expect that, did you? The year’s just started and you’re already getting the newest study tools and best deals. So what’s this new app that you’re getting? And what’s this celebration? Keep reading!

    In this month’s newsletter:

    1. Join the 34 Language Celebration & Get 34% OFF Premium
    2. New iPhone & iPad App! Get Free Mini-Lessons Every Day
    3. 2016 Lesson Schedule! Your Danish Lessons for the New Year

    1) Celebrate our 34 Languages & Get 34% OFF Premium!
    You asked, we listened. And on January 1st, we launched the new websites for Afrikaans, Romanian and Urdu! This brings us to 34 languages that you can now learn! If these were on your wish list, be sure to visit them below. And…as our thank you for helping us grow, get 34% OFF Premium at DanishClass101 as part of our 34 Language Celebration! Hurry! This ends February 3rd, 2016!

    2) New For iPhone & iPad: Learn Danish in Minutes a Day with This!
    With the Daily Dose App, you’ll get a QUICK new lesson covering phrases, slang, grammar, culture or words every day. Learn in minutes a day, every day. It’s currently available for 10 languages, and the Android app and more languages are coming soon. Premium and Premium PLUS users get full access to all of the past mini-lessons and audio and video lessons. Not a Premium user? Take advantage of the 34% discount above!

    For iPhone & iPad! Click Here to Download the Daily Dose App for Free!

    3) 2016 Lesson Schedule: Your New Danish Lessons for 2016!
    Ready to speak and master more Danish in 2016? You are because we’ve got you covered with brand new audio and video lessons by real teachers. New DanishClass101 lessons started this month and come out every week. What lessons can you expect? Check out our publishing schedule below! If you want to unlock complete access to 50+ hours of lessons and our entire Danish learning system, take advantage of the 34% discount as well!

    Click Here to See What Danish Lessons Come Out Every Week!

    To your fluency,
    Team DanishClass101

    P.S. Celebrate our 34 Languages & Get 34% OFF Premium!
    Want to unlock our entire Danish learning system at 34% OFF? Now’s your chance! Start speaking Danish from your first lesson and save BIG. Unlock 50+ hours of audio and video lessons by real teachers, lesson notes, Premium study tools, exclusive apps and more. Get 34% OFF Premium – just $6.60/month or $0.22/day – ‘til February 3rd, 2016.

    Click Here to Get a BIG 34% OFF ALL Premium Plans!

    Celebrate our 34 Languages & Get 34% OFF Premium!

    Starts Now! Save Up to 45% with the 12-Month DanishClass101 Challenge

    Starts Now! Save Up to 45% with the 12-Month DanishClass101 Challenge

    Welcome to 2016, listener!

    Making New Year’s resolutions is easy. Keeping them? Well, that’s usually a lot harder, but if your resolution was to learn Danish in the next year – then we’re about to make your resolution a LOT easier and more affordable thanks to:

    The 12-Month DanishClass101 Challenge!

    The “Challenge” is quite simple: Learn AND master Danish in the next 12 months.

    How is this possible?

    Because we’re providing FULL ACCESS to our Premium or Premium PLUS plans at up to 45% OFF, so your dream of learning Danish has never been more affordable

    But wait – we’re not done!

    To ensure you stay motivated and have the support you need to keep to your New Year’s Resolution and learn Danish this year: We’re throwing in a BONUS for all Premium and Premium PLUS members who sign up for the Challenge by January 15th, 2015:

    12 Months of Free Access to Our Exclusive Inner Circle!

    Click here to get up to 45% OFF & Inner Circle access!

    Click Here to Buy & Save!

    This special bonus includes: Monthly audio lessons with tips, tricks and tools to help you get motivated, stay on track and improve your Danish all the way to December 2016. For Challenge subscribers only!

    This special bonus is in addition to the 50+ hours of high-resolution audio and video lessons by real teachers, learning tools and special resources available to both Premium AND Premium Plus members!

    Click Here Save Up to 45% or More Than $100 & Take the Challenge Now!

    Ready to transform your resolution into reality and open up a new world of opportunities by learning Danish in the next year? Then sign up now for Premium and gain 12 months of unlimited access to these tools and resources for less than $2.00 a week:

    Your Premium Plan Includes:

    • Exclusive! 12 Months of Free Access to the Inner Circle
    • Exclusive! App for the iPhone, iPad or Android
    • Full Lesson Library Access: 300+ Audio & Video Lessons
    • PDF Lesson Notes for Each Lesson to Read Along With
    • Instructor Feedback & Comments on Each Lesson
    • Progress Tracking: See Your Danish Progress GROW
    • Learning Guidance: We Guide You Through the Lessons
    • Danish ONLY Tracks & Line by Line Dialog Breakdown
    • Full Lesson Transcripts, Translations & Review Tracks
    • Lesson Review Quizzes for Extra Practice
    • Smart Flashcards To Master All The Danish Words You Need
    • 2,000 Top Danish Words List (enough for conversational fluency)
    • Word Bank to Store Your Key Vocab & Review
    • Voice Recording Tools to Perfect your Pronunciation
    • 24/7 Access via Any Media Device with Internet Access
    • Season Vocabulary Lists To Review All Vocab From Lessons
    • For Members! New Audio & Video Lessons EVERY WEEK!
    • Exclusive! Custom Lists App to Create Your Own Word Lists

    Click Here to Get 12 Months of Premium at a BIG 45% OFF!

    As great as our Premium plan is, however, nothing helps you learn and master Danish faster than our uber-exclusive PLUS Plan.

    New! 1-on-1 Interaction with Your Own Danish Teacher

    What’s so special about our Premium PLUS plan?
    Well, you know all the lessons, tools and resources in the Premium plan? You get those plus a few secret weapons to help you learn and master Danish even faster, including:

    • 1-on-1 Interaction with Your Danish Teacher: Learn directly with your teacher via Premium PLUS My Teacher. Get help with all your questions and problems.
    • Ongoing Professional Assessment: Get an assessment of your Danish. Understand your strengths and weaknesses so you know what to study next.
    • Your Own Personalized Learning Program: Your teacher will create a study plan based on your needs. If speaking is your weak point, your teacher will work with you to get you speaking like a native speaker.
    • Voice Analysis to Perfect Your Speaking: Learn to speak like a native speaker with the help of a real native speaker! Record yourself with Premium PLUS My Teacher and your teacher will give you crucial feedback on what to improve and how.
    • Weekly Assignments & Achievement Badges: You get assignments every week from your teacher. With every completed task, you unlock badges to mark your Danish improvement and accomplishments.

    Plus, and exclusively for Premium PLUS members who sign up for the 12-Month Challenge:

    New! 1-on-1 Learning App: Take Premium PLUS with You Everywhere!

    For the first time ever, members of our Premium PLUS plan can access every tool, resource, AND 1-on-1 instruction with our new Innovative Language 101 App! This means you can learn with your very own teacher, anywhere, anytime!

    Click here to get 12 months of Premium PLUS for just $199.

    But hurry: We have VERY LIMITED slots available for Premium PLUS due to a limited number of available Danish teachers.
    And you don’t risk a cent regardless of which plan you choose because joining is risk-free. Every purchase is backed by a 60-day money-back guarantee. If you’re not speaking Danish as fast as you’d like, contact us for a full refund.

    No questions asked.

    With more than 500 million lesson downloads, 10,000s of success stories and the world’s most advanced language learning system, DanishClass101 can and WILL transform your new year’s resolution into reality and having you speaking Danish from the very first lesson!

    Click Here to Join the Challenge Today & Save On Premium or Premium PLUS Now!

    To Mastering Danish,
    Team DanishClass101

    P.S. Remember, anyone who joins the 12-Month Challenge will also receive 12 months of free access to our exclusive Inner Circle. But hurry: Our 12-Month Challenge ends on January 15th, 2016 so ACT NOW!

    What are you waiting for? Click here to get UNLIMITED Danish lessons and be part of the exclusive Inner Circle!