Mardi-Gras in France – le Carnaval


Mardi-Gras and Carnival represent a festive season in France which refers to eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lent, accompanied with sumptuous public celebrations or parades (les carnavals) which take place in many French towns and schools.


Mardi-Gras (literally “Fat Tuesday”) is originally a catholic event which marks the end of the “week of the seven fat days” which were known as “jours charnels” (meaning carnival) in the old days. Before Ash Wednesday, the start of the fasting period of Lent, people celebrated in many diverse ways as it was their last chance until Easter to eat meat.

The word “carnival” derives from the Latin “carnelevare” meaning “to take out the meat”. Indeed, meat was banished from the table during the whole period of Lent, as was sugar, ingredients containing fat, eggs and dairy products. If in Europe, the religious observance of Lent is followed by a rather small group of people, the celebrations around Mardi-Gras are still an opportunity taken by many to enjoy outdoor feasts, masquerade processions, masked balls, parades, pageants, jugglers, magicians and stilt walkers. This is what French people call “le Carnaval”.

Alongside crêpes, two other closely related treats are prepared on Mardi-Gras: waffles and beignets.

Le Carnaval (Carnival)

Carnival of Dunkerque © Mairie de Dunkerque

‘Carnaval’ is not exclusive to France: the most-famous carnivals are found in Venice (Italy), New Orleans (Louisiana) and Rio de Janeiro (Brazil). In France, many children prepare one of these three dishes mentioned above in their schools, all dressed-up in any imaginative way, from animals to supermen, and from Pierrots to princesses…

Nice Carnival 2011 © Nice OT

But French kids are sometimes not the only ones to put on their favourite costume… the big parades organised in towns such as Nice, Mulhouse, Dunkirk, Annecy or Lille are occasions to go out all disguised with make-up, fancy hats and elaborate masks, to dance and sing in the streets, while throwing confetti.

It is interesting to note that Mardi-Gras in France and in Europe has a somewhat different connotation and history from the Mardi-Gras parade in Sydney.

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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

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