Spring returning

The annual celebration of Fastelavn means longer days are just around the corner

Costumes abounded at the Scandinavian East Coast Museum’s Fastelavn celebration held in early February.

Photo: Arthur DeGaeta
Costumes abounded at the Scandinavian East Coast Museum’s Fastelavn celebration held in early February.

Victoria Hofmo
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Walking into Fastelavn 2017, organized by the Scandinavian East Coast Museum, the delightful room reminded all of the promise of spring. Pussy willow branches, provided by member Sigrun Larsen who gets them from her Staten Island yard, graced each table. These were quickly decorated with feathers and ribbons. Embellishing branches: a spring ritual that is an essential part of celebrating Fastelavn. Not so long ago, girls and boys would hit each other with branches during this time, a custom dating back to fertility rites with the approach of spring.

Held at the Danish Athletic Club in Brooklyn, guests were served a medley of Nordic dishes: lapskaus, svinestek, and frikadeller. The gratification was palpable. For dessert there was riskrem and krumkaker. And of course Fastelavn would not be complete without the enhanced boller, specific to the holiday (see Daytona Strong’s recipe on page 13). This year they were provided by Leske’s Bakery and were actually cream puffs, but it made no difference as they were delicious, exploding with whipped cream.

Norwegians do celebrate, but it is really the Danes who take it to an entirely different level. And this includes wearing costumes. This year’s participants did not disappoint: two wicked witches sporting purple and green hair, a Scotsman called McCarlsen, a baby tiger, a cowgirl, one of the New York Mets, a vampire, a pirate, a Hawaiian dancer, and the Wicked Queen from Snow White who had a shiny red apple and mirror in tow. A Viking couple had stellar costumes, the male’s trimmed with fur and the female’s embellished with intricate embroidery. Others wore wigs or headpieces. Perhaps the most unusual costume of the day was someone dressed as a hot cross bun.

Photo: Ellen Lindstrom
Where else do pirates and Vikings mix with characters straight out of fairy tales, like the Wicked Queen?

Game Master Crazy Bob Carlsen organized several diversions: Walking to Copenhagen, Tissue! I Hardly Nose Ya, and the Oslo Derby. Of course there was also a piñata, part of the Fastelavn tradition that originated with knocking a black cat out of a hanging wooden barrel. The cat was then chased out of town, hence chasing away the bad luck. Today, black cats are incorporated in much gentler ways.

Our favorite Swedish Meatball, Ellen Lindstrom, provided melodies on her squeeze­box throughout the day and cleverly chose appropriate music to accompany the games. A few couples even took a few spins around the dance floor. Lindstrom also provided a bag of hats that were passed around, à la musical chairs. When the music stopped, the one holding the bag had to pull out a hat and wear it. This game has become a SECM tradition and closes out the event. The crowd left after much dawdling, branches in hand.

Crazy Carlsen was asked what makes Fastelavn unique: “It is an amazing, exciting, different, fun-loving experience. Just a few adjectives to describe Fastelavn Brooklyn style. Next year put on your favorite costume and join us for a most unforgettable event. I hope to see you there!”

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 24, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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Victoria Hofmo

Victoria Hofmo was born, raised, and still lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, the historical heart of Norwegian New York. She is 3/4 Scandinavian: 1/2 Norwegian and 1/4 Danish/Swedish. Self-employed, she runs an out-of-school-time program that articulates learning through the arts. Hofmo is an advocate for arts and culture, education, and the preservation of the built and natural environment of her hometown, with a love for most things Scandinavian.