The Paris Carnival – A Little Guide

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In Paris the carnival has a long story and can be traced back to the Middle-Ages. After a long hiatus between 1952 and 1997 the tradition of the Paris Carnival has been revived through a noisy colourful parade drawing tens of thousands 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 carnival of Paris © French Moments

Paris Carnival © French Moments

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 carnival used to last several months from Epiphany to Lent with a highlight on Fat Tuesday (Mardi-Gras).

The Parisian celebrations of Carnival on the streets comprised of the walk of masks and the processions.

The float of Paulette Cayet Queen of the queens of Paris on the Place de l’Opéra - 15 March 1928.

The float of Paulette Cayet Queen of the queens of Paris on the Place de l’Opéra – 15 March 1928.

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…

Carnaval boulevard des Capucines 1873 by Claude Monet

Carnaval boulevard des Capucines 1873 by Claude Monet

The carnival was abundantly relayed by the medias as one of Paris’ largest festive events.

The 1920 edition of the Carnival featured on the Petit Journal illustré (#1628)

The 1920 edition of the Carnival featured on the Petit Journal illustré (#1628)

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.

Carnival of Paris © French Moments

The parade on the streets © French Moments

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)

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 in the central island of the square.

👉 Find out more about the parade on the festival’s official website. 🎉


My visit to the Paris Carnival

In February 2016, I attended the 19th editions 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 take photos as they have to slow down to make their turn.

Carnival of Paris © French Moments

Place Auguste Métivier © French Moments

The police was already there and the crowd started to gather together… it was just a matter a minutes now…

Paris Carnival © French Moments

Paris Carnival © French Moments

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!)

Carnival of Paris © French Moments

The police is ready too for the parade! © French Moments

And here they come!

Paris Carnival © French Moments

The first group of the parade © French Moments

There’s even someone looking like American frontiersman Davy Crockett!

Paris Carnival © French Moments

The front of the parade © French Moments

Then comes a noisy group all dressed in red-orangey colours:

Paris Carnival © French Moments

Paris Carnival © French Moments

I was quite surprised to see so many young people happily taking part of the event. People in their 20s or 30s.

Paris Carnival © French Moments

Paris Carnival © French Moments

Bolivia as a guest of honour!

Then came Bolivian women in traditional outfits, dancing in a joyful atmosphere.

Carnival of Paris © French Moments

Bolivian dancers © French Moments

Carnival of Paris © French Moments

A joyful atmosphere with Bolivian traditional dances © French Moments

Paris Carnival © French Moments

Paris Carnival © French Moments

Some disguised men followed…

Paris Carnival © French Moments

Paris Carnival © French Moments

But it was such a short interlude for more Bolivian people to pass by with colourful outfit.

Paris Carnival © French Moments

Bolivian Colourful Outfits © French Moments

Without forgetting their ‘disguised’ van!

Paris Carnival © French Moments

The Bolivian Van! © French Moments

Honestly I hadn’t look too closely at the programme so I was a bit lost with the theme of the groups parading…

Paris Carnival © French Moments

Happy people parading! © French Moments

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!)

Paris Carnival © French Moments

A colourful parade © French Moments

Although it was a joyous event, you could tell that people involved in the parade were taking this opportunity very seriously! 😂

Paris Carnival © French Moments

Paris Carnival © French Moments

You don’t get to parade in the streets of Paris dressed-up every day in your life! (well unless you’re familiar to the legendary demonstrations!!)

Paris Carnival © French Moments

Paris Carnival © French Moments

Be noisy!

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.

Paris Carnival © French Moments

A very noisy carnival! © French Moments

After a little while, you get to understand how the parade is structured. There is a “meneur” or leader for each groups.

Paris Carnival © French Moments

At the parade © French Moments

I loved these tall umbrellas! So fun!

Paris Carnival © French Moments

On Boulevard de Ménilmontant © French Moments

Don’t they look so French with their navy costumes?

Paris Carnival © French Moments

C’est la fête ! © French Moments

Even some people attending the parade take part of the game.

Paris Carnival © French Moments

Even passers-by are disguised! © French Moments

Hmmm I may be wrong but they look like a group made up of medical students.

Paris Carnival © French Moments

The Medical students group © French Moments

Make some noise people!!!

Paris Carnival © French Moments

Drummers in action! © French Moments

It’s not over yet… cover your ears!

Paris Carnival © French Moments

The drummers © French Moments

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 joining the great party on Place de la République?


👉 Find out more about the parade on the festival’s official website. 🎉


 

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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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