Mardi-Gras in France: Origins and Traditions

0

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. 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 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.

Mardi-Gras in France - Waffles for carnival © French Moments

Mardi-Gras in France – Waffles for carnival © French Moments


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 a number of features:

  • outdoor feasts,
  • masquerade processions,
  • masked balls,
  • parades…

They include the participation of pageants, jugglers, magicians and stilt walkers.

This is what French people call “le Carnaval”.

Mardi-Gras in France - Mulhouse Carnival © French Moments

Mardi-Gras in France – Mulhouse Carnival © French Moments

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

Mardi-Gras in France - Paris Carnival © French Moments

Mardi-Gras in France – Paris Carnival © French Moments

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 any imaginative way, from animals to supermen, and from Pierrots to princesses…

Pirate-La-Rochelle-©-French-Moments

Pirate at La Rochelle, France © 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.

Mulhouse Carnival © French Moments

Mulhouse Carnival © French Moments

Now, let’s have a look at some of France’s most popular carnivals!

The Carnival of Dunkirk

The northern city of Dunkirk may not be a very popular tourist destination in France, nevertheless it celebrates the Mardi-Gras season with exuberance, noise and colours.

Mardi-Gras in France - Dunkirk Carnival © Ville de Dunkerque

Mardi-Gras in France – Dunkirk Carnival © Ville de Dunkerque

Read more about the Dunkirk Carnival

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!

Mardi-Gras in France - Paris Carnival © French Moments

Mardi-Gras in France – Paris Carnival © French Moments

Read more about the Paris Carnival

The Carnival of Mulhouse

The Carnival of Mulhouse is a noisy and colourful event faithful to the old traditions of the Rhineland.

Mardi-Gras in France - Mulhouse Carnival © French Moments

Mardi-Gras in France – Mulhouse Carnival © French Moments

Read more about the Mulhouse Carnival

? 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 popular carnivals in northeastern France, it includes a night and a day parade, as well as a number of great events.

Mardi-Gras in France - Selestat Carnival - Stock Photos from bonzodog : Shutterstock

Mardi-Gras in France – Selestat Carnival – Stock Photos from bonzodog : Shutterstock

Read more about the historic town of Sélestat

The Carnival of Nantes

This is a very old carnival, dating back to the Middle-Ages. It has become one of France’s most attended carnivals besides Nice.

Mardi-Gras in France - Nantes Carnival - Stock Photos from Vo Hieu - Shutterstock

Mardi-Gras in France – Nantes Carnival – Stock Photos from Vo Hieu – Shutterstock

Read more about the historic city of Nantes

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!

Mardi-Gras in France - Annecy Venetian Carnival © French Moments

Mardi-Gras in France – Annecy Venetian Carnival © French Moments

Read more about the Annecy Venetian Carnival

The Carnival of Nice

This 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, as well as a Flower parade.

Mardi-Gras in France - Nice Carnival © J. Kelagopian - OTC Nice

Mardi-Gras in France – Nice Carnival © J. Kelagopian – OTC Nice

Read more about the Nice Carnival

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 fruity parade, Menton celebrates the end of Winter with bright yellow colours!  

Mardi-Gras in France - The Lemon night parade © Ville de Menton

Mardi-Gras in France – The Lemon night parade © Ville de Menton

Read more about the Menton Carnival – the Lemon Festival

Mardi-Gras in France doesn’t mean the same thing in OZ!

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. Contrary to Mardi-Gras in Sydney, most carnivals in France (and Europe) are not gay prides… These events have their own dates planned in cities like Paris or Berlin.


Inspired? Pin it for later

Mardi-Gras in France © French Moments


 

Liked it? Take a second to support Pierre on Patreon!
Share.

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.

Leave A Reply

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.