In Paris, the carnival has a long story and dates back to the Middle Ages. After a long hiatus between 1952 and 1997, the tradition of the Paris Carnival wa revived through a noisy colourful parade drawing tens of thousands of Parisians and visitors from the Place Gambetta to the Place de la République.
What are the origins of the Paris Carnival?
Mardi-Gras (Fat Tuesday) is a special day. Tradition has it that carnivals take place on that day.
It is time to eat beignets such as oreillettes (crispy fried pastries with icing sugar) and beignets de carnaval (small balls of deep-fried dough dusted with granulated sugar).
The Paris Carnival has a long story to tell. After a long interruption between 1952 and 1997, it came back to life again.
The Medieval Feast of Fools
In the Middle Ages, the Paris Carnival was linked to the popular celebration of the Feast of Fools which preceded it.
The Paris Carnival was an important tradition and festive event, involving all social classes from workers to corporations, from students to trade unions.
The Parisian celebrations of Carnival on the streets comprised of the walk of masks and the processions.
A carnival painted by well-known artists
Many artists have painted the carnival of Paris showing how popular it once was: Edouard Manet, Paul Gavarni, Claude Monet…
The carnival was abundantly relayed by the media as one of Paris’ largest festive events.
A Carnival in limbo
Because of political and social tensions, the Paris Carnival came to an end in 1953 and was quickly forgotten by the Parisians.
In the 1990s the man on the street completely ignored the fact that a proper carnival once existed in Paris.
The festival’s revival
Thanks to private initiatives the Paris Carnival was revived in 1997 and has been running since, attracting media attention.
The noisy and colourful parade is made up of several groups of revellers carrying extravagant outfits playing drums and whistles.
The themes of the parades
Each year the Mardi-Gras parade is run on a different theme:
- 2 March 2014: Fées, trolls et compagnie (Fairies, trolls and co)
- 15 February 2015: Chevaliers, dragons et châtelaines (knights, dragons and ladies of the castle)
- 7 February 2016: Le monde fantastique aquatique (The fantastic water world)
- 26 February 2017: La Ronde des fruits et des légumes autour du monde (The dance of fruit and vegetable around the world)
- 11 February 2018: Les contes de Perrault et d’ailleurs (The fairytales of Perrault and others)
- 3 March 2019: Un pour tous et tous pour le sport (one for all and all for sport)
- 23 February 2020: Un fabuleux monde aérien (A fabulous aerial world)
- 17 February 2022: Les mondes antiques
Itinerary of the procession
Nowadays the parade starts from the Place Gambetta (20th arrondissement) and runs through avenue Gambetta, boulevard de Ménilmontant, Boulevard de Belleville and rue du Faubourg du Temple.
A few hours later the procession ends at the Place de la République with a big party organised on the central island of the square.
My visit to the Paris Carnival
In February 2016, I attended the 19th edition of the Paris Carnival for the first time. For the occasion, I came with my little daughter Aimée who was 3 years old at the time. Here’s a little snapshot of what we saw!
We took the métro to the Père Lachaise station and waited at the intersection of Boulevard de Ménilmontant and Avenue de la République (place Auguste Métivier).
I chose this specific place because the parade’s itinerary was making a right turn onto Boulevard de Ménilmontant. Therefore, it is easier to see the groups parading and taking photos as they have to slow down to make their turn.
The police were already there and the crowd started to gather together… it was just a matter of minutes now…
And then we could hear banging noise in the distance… and it became louder and louder until we spotted the head of the parade (look at the strawberry!)
And here they come!
There’s even someone looking like American frontiersman Davy Crockett!
Then comes a noisy group all dressed in red-orangey colours:
I was quite surprised to see so many young people happily taking part in the event. People in their 20s or 30s.
Bolivia as a guest of honour!
Then came Bolivian women in traditional outfits, dancing in a joyful atmosphere.
Some disguised men followed…
But it was such a short interlude for more Bolivian people to pass by with colourful outfits.
Without forgetting their ‘disguised’ van!
Honestly, I hadn’t looked too closely at the programme so I was a bit lost with the theme of the groups parading…
One thing for sure, it was a VERY colourful event. A splendid thing to see in the middle of Winter (although that day was a great sunny one!)
Although it was a joyous event, you could tell that people involved in the parade were taking this opportunity very seriously!
You don’t get to parade in the streets of Paris dressed-up every day in your life! (well unless you’re familiar with the legendary demonstrations!!)
There’s a lot of music involved in the parade. Music? Well, I should say “Noise”. But it’s part of what a carnival is.
After a little while, you get to understand how the parade is structured. There is a “meneur” or leader for each group.
I loved these tall umbrellas! So fun!
Don’t they look so French with their navy costumes?
Even some people attending the parade take part in the game.
Hmmm, I may be wrong but they look like a group made up of medical students.
Make some noise people!!!
It’s not over yet… cover your ears!
You can follow the people parading along Boulevard de Ménilmontant up to its final destination: Place de la République.
As I was there with my very young daughter (remember she was 3 at the time), I decided to go back home. But if you have time, why not join the great party on Place de la République?