The carnival season in France has a long history, with its oldest origins tied to ancient Rome, where a circus-type festival took place. The event, known as Lupercalia, honored the Roman deity Lupercus and is similar in many ways to today’s Mardi Gras celebrations. When Christianity was introduced in Rome, certain aspects of those ancient rituals were incorporated into the new religion, allowing Christians a time of feasting, revelry, and abandonment prior to the 40 days of Lent.
The creation of what resembles today’s carnival season in France didn’t occur in earnest until the Middle Ages, when the Feast of Fools began to be celebrated each year, with revelers participating in the ongoing activities of feasting, singing, and dancing. Today, several French cities continue to celebrate with parades and assorted activities lasting for several weeks.
One of the major carnival celebrations in France is the Paris Carnival. Beginning with a procession through the streets, participants at the Paris Carnival wear costumes made of vibrant colored fabric, full half-face masks, painted faces, and elaborate head pieces, or all shapes and sizes, adorned with ribbons, glitter, and assorted feathers. Music fills the air as street dancers, puppeteers, and performers entertain the crowd while giant figures propelled by stilt walkers, oversee the crowd.
One of the most elaborate celebrations taking place in February is the Nice Carnival. This event is the most popular Mardi Gras in the French Riviera attracting more than one million visitors each year. The Nice Carnival is always held in February when the weather in is at its best. Nestled along the luxurious Mediterranean, Mardi Gras in the French Riviera has its advantages with its beautiful weather, scenery, and coastline.
The parade in Nice features musical and street performers along with nearly two-dozen floats adorned with hundreds of giant papier-mâché heads, each with a face of a different caricature. On Fat Tuesday itself, spectators enjoy a spectacular fireworks display and a brilliant night parade lit by thousands of colorful lights. The Nice Carnival can run for two weeks or longer but due to yearly calendar changes that affect the dates of Easter and Ash Wednesday, the schedule here (and at any other Carnival or Mardi Gras celebrations) vary from year to year.
Another of the outstanding parades during carnival season in France is held in Limoux. This small, quaint city has the distinction of being the longest running carnival in the world. Carnival events in Limoux run from January through March, and this carnival is also know for having exceptionally intricate costumes and elaborately decorated masks.
Mardi Gras in Limoux features three parades at 11 am, 4:30 pm, and 10 pm, every day of the festivities. The parades feature participants in elegant as well as outlandish costumes and masks who make their way through the crowd singing, joking, and dancing. The night parade is highlighted with torches along the route adding a touch of mystery to the procession.
If your heart is set on celebrating here, be sure to plan far enough in advance when making reservations for next year’s Paris Carnival or Mardi Gras in the French Riviera to ensure you can find accommodations or take advantage of special vacation deals.