Carnival in France : which one to choose?

cultural events in France | French culture | French holidays

After a harsh winter, spring is emerging, and the Carnival brings with it greed, laughter and disguises with a little madness and abandon! 

With a stay in France for the winter holidays (February-March) in mind, Vacances Actives Linguistiques offers you a tour of France of carnivals and a colourful parade of culinary specialties and costumes! Yes, between Mardi Gras and Carnival, France can compete with Rio and Venice! 

3 good reasons to spend winter holidays for Carnival in France

  1. To prepare and celebrate Carnival with your host family or a group of French as a Foreign Language students. The principle is simple: make or buy a mask, a costume, eat more than enough, parade and party! 
  2. To learn French without taking yourself seriously: teachers and families play the Carnival game, a moment of joy, dance, and disguise to forget the sadness of winter!
  3. To discover the traditions of the French regions with originality, whatever the destination. Travellers can experience the Mardi Gras and Carnival festivities from the north to the south of France.

Where do the traditions of French Carnival come from?

The origins of Carnival in France

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Historians associate the origins of Carnival with the pagan rites of Antiquity, where entertainment and masquerade scenes are organized at the end of winter, to announce spring and the rebirth of nature. 

In ancient Babylon, in the 2nd century BC, the Sacred Feasts celebrated the goddess Anaitis and the awakening of nature, overthrowing the established order. Masters and slaves disguise themselves and swap their roles during 5 days of celebrations! 

Meanwhile, the Greeks celebrated Dionysus, god of fertility, wine and vegetation, with parades and theatrical performances, mime scenes.

The Romans organized Saturnalia, in honour of the god of agriculture and time: masquerades enlivened the streets during the winter solstice, while masters and slaves swapped roles for the greatest pleasure of the public.

It was in the Middle Ages that Christians were inspired by these pagan traditions for the religious celebrations of Mardi Gras and Carnival taking place before Lent, at the arrival of spring.

Travel to France at Carnival: disguise de rigueur!

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To celebrate Carnival in France, people must be ready to come in disguise! Traditionally, the mask was worn to imitate and mock an authority or a servant. Without being recognized by their costume, the participants dare to caricature without fear of reprisals! Watch out for the disguises of language teachers! Celebrating Carnival will give the traveller the opportunity to have a good time by creating the ideal costume with their host family or a group of students, to put themselves in the shoes of their hero, a famous real or fictional character! Everything is allowed!

Taste the specialties of Carnival of different French regions

Winter holidays in France: a restorative stay!

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Spending winter holidays in France is synonymous with great greed! The festivities of Carnival arrive ahead of Lent (40 days of fasting). The highlight is Mardi Gras, a traditional Christian feast where we eat rich foods and particularly restorative culinary specialties! French families allow themselves all the gastronomic excesses; we feast around rich and inexpensive preparations. What for? In order to finish the stocks of butter, eggs and sugar!

Nowadays, Lent is much less respected than Mardi Gras! We gain strength and calories but we forget to fast and then eliminate them… Carnival and Mardi Gras, celebrated during the February-March holidays of French schools, remain a great moment of conviviality and abundance!

Carnival recipes from the French regions

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Depending on the region of destination of your winter stay in France, you will undoubtedly taste the same specialty but under a totally different name! Carnival generates culinary and linguistic folklore and inspires regional idioms! 

Flip pancakes 

In the continuity of the Candlemas (February 02 in France), pancakes are one of the essential specialties of the Carnival and Mardi Gras festivities. Each region has its own pancake recipe, made from milk or water, its type of flour, its dose of sugar, and its alcohol to flavour! Students are generally big fans of this French specialty!

Preparing fritters : an emblematic specialty of Carnival and all its regional variations 

Fritters are very old pastries that date back to the feasts of the Roman calends. It is prepared in all French regions as THE Mardi Gras specialty par excellence. From one city to another, from one family to another, the composition, shape, thickness, and name change! Here is for training in French pronunciation with a good local accent: 

Beugnets in Franche Comté (often with apples), Bottereau (Pays Nantais, Anjou), Bougnettes (Catalan country), Bugnes in Lyon, based on leavened dough , Chichi frégi (Provence), Craquelins (Savoie, Limousin, Brittany), Croquignolles (Anjou), Crouchepettes (Landes), Frappes de Corse (flavored with myrtle brandy), Foutimassons (Vendée, Poitou), Ganses (Nice), Mascots (Côte d’Azur), Merveilles (South West), Oreillettes (Languedoc), Rousettes (Alsace), or even Tourtisseaux (Vendée). 

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Tour of France of Carnivals: choose your destination for a cultural and festive stay

Language stay in the South of France: the tangy Carnivals of Nice and Menton

The Nice Carnival is the largest Carnival in France and known worldwide: it attracts foreign travellers from all over the world. Since the Middle Ages, this popular festival has been animated by contests of parades of floats, masquerades, flower battles and cavalcades, each more incredible and surprising than the next. 

This is an opportunity for FLE travellers and students to discover the city of Nice in a much more colourful and extravagant light! A parade of 18 spectacular floats takes place on Corso Carnavalesque every day for two weeks in February, with its huge cardboard figures and hundreds of dancers.

This is an exceptional moment for visitors to see the Promenade des Anglais all disguised and the King of Carnival enthroned on Place Masséna!

The apotheosis of this linguistic stay at the Nice Carnival is the Battle of Flowers : a spring and bucolic wind blows over the city! Actresses posted on floats adorned with fresh flowers throw bouquets and mimosa to rain on the audience! 

To close the festivities, the Baie des Anges lights up under fireworks and the King’s pyre, burnt on the Mediterranean Sea. 


Stopover at the Menton Carnival

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Let have an unforgettable surprise by stopping off in Menton: a city all in lemon yellow! The Menton Carnival is marked by the omnipresence of this emblematic Mediterranean fruit. Since 1930, the lemon has been celebrated there in all its forms, with floats, costumes and sculptures made entirely from lemons!

The Paris Carnival is reborn!

Those who want to take a language study trip to Paris for the February holidays will be able to celebrate a Carnival in… rebirth. Fallen into disuse after the Second World War, it gradually regained its vigour in the 90s. Now it consists of the promenade of masks and parades of floats, during a large parade in costume between Place Gambetta and Place de la République.

Detour to the North, via the Dunkerque Carnival!

The Dunkerque Carnival was originally a fishermen’s feast, a banquet offered by ship owners to their courageous sailors before the resumption of fishing in the spring. It stands out from other carnivals in France and around the world for its unusual traditions and its long duration (festivities lasting almost 3 months!). Disguised parades, feasts and maritime traditions combine to give a unique Carnival! The atmosphere is overexcited and boozy, marked by the “bands”, parades of disguised carnivalists led by the drum major, and night balls. 

Dunkerque Carnival electroshock for all visitors is the famous herring throwing. During the big parade, the bands stop under the windows of the Town Hall where the mayor and his team throw smoked herrings (wrapped in cellophane) at the carnival audience! Souvenir (olfactory) of travel guaranteed! 

In Brittany and Normandy: head to the Douarnenez Carnival!

You will have to go as far as Finistère, in Douarnenez, to discover the most important carnival in Brittany. Balls and costumed parades come one after another to celebrate the King of Carnival, Den’Paolig, (literally “poor man” in Breton), suspended on the facade of the town halls, then burned in the port at the end of the festivities. The “Gras de Douarnenez” has been celebrated since 1835, to celebrate the end of winter, and the resumption of more fruitful work by fishermen. 

 So, to which King of the Carnival will our travellers devote themselves? What will be the Mardi Gras delicacies recipes offered by French families to empty the cupboards and have fun during the winter holidays? What disguises will our students make to celebrate Carnival in the streets of Nice or Dunkerque?

One thing is certain: they will leave with an original fritters recipe, confetti in their eyes and colourful memories!

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