This day we celebrate with baking of buns and decorating with birch, and it falls on Sunday, 7 weeks before Easter morning (Austr). Balder's Day Sunnadagr (Sunday) is not counted, so the time is thus 40 days before the pagan Austr, the time Balder and his wife Nanna return from Hel. Since the calendar follows the moon and the sun, and is related to Austr, this day is also moving in accordance.
Fastelavn means "the night before the lent" and was the original day called “the fat Tuesday”. This day was not called Fastelavn in pagan times, but is related to Hélhestr, as we have read before, and the latter also fell 40 days after Winter Solstice and 40 days before Austr.
Originally, Fastelavn was a pagan spring festival, which consisted of the seven "days of feasting" or “the fat days”. The celebration extends over seven days, and these days represent the number of years the child has weaned, or rather the number of years before loss of teeth and the ancestor symbolically is "reborn", when the child develops personality. (It is at this point that a child becomes "self-reliant" with his personality and is less dependent on his mother). The first three days of the celebration were “Fat Sunday” (Fastelavnssøndag), Blåmandag (the day after the feast) and Feitetirsdag (Fat Tuesday). The latter is also called in the English speaking country "Mardi Gras", which means the day before the lent.
40 days after Fat Tuesday (the period leading up to Austr), is equivalent to the 40 weeks of pregnancy. After Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday will follow. From that day it was normal fasting. This meant fasting from meat throughout the 40 day period, as this symbolizes the dead ancestor, who is to be symbolically reborn. It is also emphasized here that the importance of necessary death, before birth, was essential in our ancestors' view of all levels of nature. Also in such a way that death itself was inextricably linked to birth and fertility.
That is why one was covered with ashes on Ash Wednesday, and dressed in old, filthy clothes, both of which represent dead ancestors. Ash Wednesday is Odin's day (the spirit), and the dress symbolizes death. This is celebrated, among other things, during carnival, and we do the same today around Fastelavn. Carnival is of Latin - carne val - and means "meat farewell". Thus, symbolically, we mark again symbolic death and rebirth of ancestors in the kin. The original carnival was about finding oneself, awakening your ancestors' (your own) memories - because, Odin is also the power within yourself - the power of all your ancestors who dwell in you, and all their past lives. They are reincarnated in you, with all their might!
Veslefrikk and fattigmannen (the poor old man). By Theodor Kittelsen. A typical outfit on an Ash Wednesday? Poorly dressed, old giants and figures symbolize dead, honorable ancestors in our fairytales.
It was common in pagan times with sword fighting, where one party represented winter, and one party represented summer. Bonfires were also common, as at all other high festivals, known as Alfaeldr (ancestral bonfires).
The outfits and masks, which were often bear, bird or wolf related, symbolize what is hidden or unseen. Just like the bear leaving the cave / winter layer during the dark new moon at this time of year. The carnival should also be a kind of reminder of the actual conception that had taken place seven years earlier, of the child being born - which the "ancestral spirit" now occupies.
Herein we find the symbol and stories of the werewolf. This is symbolically and mythological a human being transformed halfway into an animal (wolf or bear), and this occurs at the full moon - according to ancient knowledge; the very moment for lovemaking and fertility, as discussed earlier. The full moon is linked to adrenaline (Pan), basic life-giving forces and instincts. In other words, it is filled with "animal drives" and the werewolves of fairytales are only a symbol of this. The woman's actual re-propagation cycle is, if not disturbed by artificial chemicals, connected to the moon, just as tides, fishing and hunting with the best outcome are similarly linked to the full moon's power.
The diet during the celebration was dairy products, baked goods, eggs, pancakes and the like. Everything symbolizes the moon, the egg and the conception. Our beloved Norwegian “fastelavn buns” are directly related to this.
Norwegian Fastelavn buns.
The tradition was also to collect birch twigs, which is the symbol of spring and fertility. The birch also represents Frøya, and Bjarkan (the birch) is her tree, the very manifestation of the tall, blonde and bright Frøya, the symbol of all our women. The birch twigs were used to brush the winter away and our ancestors swept the house with it. The decorations were (still is) shaped like a tree, and decorated with feathers and often small birds. The ornamental birch tree represents the sun, spring, ancestry and rebirth - the tree Yggdrasil itself, the tree of life. It carries the same symbolism as the evergreen trees and twigs we decorate for Yule. With the birch decoration, everything should come to life. We are approaching spring - the birth of spring.
Fastelavn, as Norse tradition, is many thousands of years old. It has in nature, our fertility, rebirth and ancestral cult been celebrated for ages. It was a day of feasting, before the symbolic fasting from meat, in which we imitated our ancestors and gods, awaiting honorable reincarnation.
The Pagan Celebration was later twisted and corrupted by the Christians, and they dedicated the celebration to Jesus' fasting in the desert for 40 days, and that Moses did the same on Mount Sinai.
Relevant video - Our Pagan Spring Festivals: