Brooklyn’s annual Fastelavn celebration was brimming with Scandinavian tradition at the Danish Athletic Club on February 11, in a year which marks the club’s 125th year in business.
Complete with games and food, the Danish Mardi Gras also featured music by Ellen Lindstrom from The Swedish Meatballs. An accordion enthusiast since she was seven years old, Lindstrom showed up in a handmade costume. Along with folk music, she also made a point to play a crowd favorite called “Wonderful Copenhagen.”
Organizer Victoria Hofmo, who dressed for the occasion as Snow White’s stepmother, said notable costumes included two elderly witches, two intricate Viking costumes, a Scotsman and a child dressed as a tiger.
A favorite pastime in the festival was “hit the barrel,” which involved a piñata that spills out candy for children. The game stops when the pinata is completely broken down, and was historically played — but no longer! — with a real black cat inside the keg. Beating the barrel with the cat inside was superstitiously considered a safeguard against evil.
Other artistic activities included the making of spring branches. Kept up through Easter, these ribbon-clad pussywillow branches mark the upcoming season of Lent. Foods included cream-filled pastries, which were a hit among the foods praised at the event.
Sponsored by the Scandinavian East Coast Museum, Fastelavn honors Brooklyn’s deep Scandinavian roots; it formerly boasted the third largest population of Norwegians in the world. It still rings as a surprise to many that Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue was once referred to as Swedish Broadway.
Changing times, however, have not stopped Hofmo from giving “a voice to the history of those people” who contributed to building up New York alongside the Dutch. “You don’t have to be Scandinavian to come to this event,” she said, when telling the Brooklyn Reporter that spreading the word to the surrounding community was the biggest challenge.