Mardi-Gras and Carnival refer to eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of Lent. In France, this festive season comes with sumptuous public celebrations or parades (‘les carnavals’) which take place in many French towns and schools. Let’s have a closer look at the celebrations of Mardi-Gras in France…
The origins of Mardi-Gras in France
Mardi-Gras (literally “Fat Tuesday”) is originally a catholic event that 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.
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 a number of features:
- outdoor feasts,
- masquerade processions,
- masked balls,
They include the participation of pageants, jugglers, magicians and stilt walkers.
This is what French people call “le Carnaval”.
Mardi-Gras in France is also about food!
Great news for kids (and grown-ups alike!), Mardi-Gras is also a time to prepare delicious treats…
Alongside crêpes, two other closely related treats are prepared on Mardi-Gras:
The region of Alsace has many recipes and varieties of beignets such as Schenkele and Fasenachtskiechle.
The Carnivals in France
The ‘Carnaval’ is not exclusive to France.
However, the most-famous carnivals in the world are in
- Venice (Italy),
- New Orleans (Louisiana),
- Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), and…
- Nice (France)!
In France, many children prepare one of these three dishes mentioned above in their schools, all dressed up in imaginative ways, from animals to supermen, and from Pierrots to princesses…
But French kids are sometimes not the only ones to wear their favourite costume. The big parades organised in towns such as Nice, Mulhouse, Paris, Dunkirk or Annecy are occasions to go out disguised with make-up, fancy hats and elaborate masks. And to dance and sing in the streets while throwing confetti.
Now, let’s have a look at some of France’s most popular carnivals!
(Knowing that in 2020 and 2021 most of these carnivals were cancelled due to the pandemic! They should be back in 2022!)
The Carnival of Dunkirk
The northern city of Dunkirk may not be a trendy tourist destination in France; nevertheless, it celebrates the Mardi-Gras season with exuberance, noise and colours.
The Carnival of Paris
In the past (before WW2), the Paris Carnival was amongst the largest in France. An association wishes to bring it to life again… and it’s quite a success!
The Carnival of Mulhouse
The Carnival of Mulhouse is a noisy and colourful event faithful to the old traditions of the Rhineland.
👉 Read more about the carnival of Mulhouse on my French blog!
The Carnival of Sélestat
The Sélestat Carnival will celebrate its 30th edition in 2021. One of the most famous carnivals in northeastern France, it includes a night parade and a day parade, as well as several great events.
The Carnival of Nantes
The Carnaval de Nantes is an old carnival, dating back to the Middle Ages. It has become one of France’s most attended carnivals besides Nice.
The Carnival of Annecy
Definitely one of my favourite carnivals in France! The Venetian Carnival of Annecy hosts hundreds of masks wandering silently and spontaneously in the old town. Just like in Venice!
The Carnival of Nice
The Carnaval de Nice is France’s biggest carnival and one of the worlds’ most popular events besides Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans and Venice. The 14 day-long celebrations include a day and a night parade and a Flower parade.
The Carnival of Menton
Each year in February, the little town of Menton organises one of France’s most colourful carnivals: the Lemon Festival (Fête du Citron). With stunning citrus patterns and a fruity parade, Menton celebrates the end of Winter with bright yellow colours!
Mardi-Gras in France doesn’t mean the same thing in OZ!
Interestingly, Mardi-Gras in France and Europe have a somewhat different connotation and history from the Mardi-Gras parade in Sydney. Contrary to Mardi-Gras in Sydney, most carnivals in France (and Europe) are not gay pride. These events have their dates planned in cities like Paris or Berlin.
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