The Danish Shrovetide celebrations have developed in mysterious ways over the centuries. On the island of Amager, just around Copenhagen Airport, many of the older traditions have been preserved and draw thousands of spectators each year. Dragør, once a fishing and trading port, really goes to town, as does in Store Magleby, and the little village Ullerup only a few kilometers outside Copenhagen.
In Dragør on Shrovetide Sunday, in Store Magleby on Shrovetide Monday and in Ullerup on Shrovetide Wednesday, the day-long festivities begin as horseriders gather to parade, led by flagmen and a carriage full of musicians. They all wind their way throughout the district, where they are served hot rum punch in exchange for a song. Later in the afternoon the mounted assembly meets for tilting the barrel.
"Knights" dressed in top hats, ornate white shirts and black embroidered vests manoeuvre their steeds at full gallop and swing carved batons at a barrel hung from a rope between two poles. When the final stave has been bashed from the barrel, the gathering elects a Barrel King and Queen. The rider who beats the last barrel stave down is elected Barrel King of the year and receives a wreath and a kiss from the Barrel Queen. The couple open the festive Barrel Ball and Fastelavn extends long into night.
Children always jump out of bed excitedly on this morning, as under their beds the lucky ones find a Fasterlavnsris, a small cluster of twigs decorated with coloured paper and sweets.These weapon are used for waking up their parents. Later they are "knocking the cat out of the barrel" – the children's version of the adult celebrations. Princesses, fairies, pirates and the rest use all their strength to splinter the barrel (at school or elsewhere) and spill the toys and sweets inside. The lucky child who manages it becomes the Cat King or Queen of Fastelavn.
Fastelavn Sunday falls in the uncertain period between winter and spring, and was once regarded as a fertility rite. Like Mardi Gras it was the final feast before the 40-day Lenten fast preceding Easter. Centuries ago, peasants would gather at a farm to feast, sometimes naked, since fertility rites often involved sowing seeds in the nude to ensure a good crop. Strangely, ladies would also hike their skirts to reveal their bare bottoms for the sake of fertility! In the 16th century, Danish rulers attempted to abolish such "debauchery" and some traditions were lost, although the spirit of Fastelavn has survived.

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