Celebrate Mardi-Gras in France!

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


The origins of Mardi-Gras

Waffles for carnival © French Moments

Waffles for carnival © French Moments

Mardi-Gras (literally “Fat Tuesday”) is originally a catholic event which marks the end of the “week of the seven fat days”.

They 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 origins of Carnival

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.

The Carnival and Lent fight, painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1559)

The Carnival and Lent fight, painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1559)

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”.

Mulhouse Carnival © French Moments

Mulhouse Carnival © French Moments

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


The Carnivals in France

Paris Carnival © French Moments

The ‘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…

Mulhouse Carnival © French Moments

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, ParisDunkirk or Annecy 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.

The Carnival of Dunkirk

Dunkirk Carnival 04 copyright Ville de Dunkerque

Dunkirk Carnival © Ville de Dunkerque

The Carnival of Paris

Paris Carnival 2016 10 © French Moments

Paris Carnival © French Moments

The Carnival of Mulhouse

Mulhouse Carnival 22 copyright French Moments

Mulhouse Carnival © French Moments

The Carnival of Sélestat

Selestat Carnival - Stock Photos from bonzodog : Shutterstock

Selestat Carnival – Stock Photos from bonzodog : Shutterstock

The Carnival of Nantes

Nantes Carnival - Stock Photos from Vo Hieu - Shutterstock

Nantes Carnival – Stock Photos from Vo Hieu – Shutterstock

The Carnival of Annecy

Annecy Venetian Carnival © French Moments

The Venetian Carnival of Annecy – by the lake © French Moments

The Carnival of Nice

CARNAVAL 2015

Nice Carnival © J. Kelagopian – OTC Nice

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.

?? Read more about the carnival of Mulhouse on my French blog!


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Mardi-Gras and Carnival in France © French Moments


 

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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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