Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Madhouse diaries : It's carnival time !

While Mardi Gras is celebrated as Pancake Day in Britain, it has a totally different meaning in Dunkirk because it is the highpoint of the carnival season. Dunkirk's carnival goes on for about two months with "bandes" every Sunday afternoon and "bals" every Friday and/or Saturday night in different villages and districts in and around the town, but the pinnacle is Les Trois Joyeuses (The Three Joyful Ones) which are the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of Mardi Gras, in the heart of Dunkirk, non stop.

While people do get drunk and there are sometimes fights, particularly towards the end of the night (ie about 5am), the main atmosphere is one of good-natured silliness. I always love the way whole families go out together. 

Often wearing matching costumes.

You're never too young to start ! There are separate "bandes" and "bals" for the children and primary schools even have their own, parading through the streets one afternoon in the week before half term.

The main man is the "tambour major" (drum major) who leads the musicians and therefore the whole procession. This little lad looks like he has grand dreams of becoming one in years to come !

Behind the tambour major is the group of musicians, with drums and fifes, all wearing the traditional yellow sou'westers that represent the carnival's roots - it was initially created as a final send-off for the Dunkirk fisherman heading off to fish for cod in the waters off Iceland, from which many would never return.

Behind the musicians are the "first lines" of experienced carnival-goers, whose job it is to protect the musicians by holding back the crowd. Easier said than done because at various points, the music changes, signifying that the front lines, with linked arms, must stop and lean back with all their weight, whilst those further back must push forwards and try to break through the lines. If you're in the middle, you get squished so it's not a place to go if you're claustrophobic ! Carnival-lovers proudly show off their bruises at work the next day !

Some dream of being a tambour major while others aspire to be a musician !

Standing on the sidelines, you get swept up by the atmosphere. It's always so colourful.

These photos were at our local carnival in St Pol sur Mer a couple of weeks ago, but this weekend was the main carnival in Dunkirk itself.

Despite the cold and rain announcing the onset of Storm Imogen, we decided to head off into town to have a look and soak up the atmosphere. We decided not to dress up but Pierre put on a mask that he'd made at school and we took along some homemade confetti !

As I said, colourful is the best word to sum it up !

The heavens opened but despite the downpour, it was business as usual ! Unfortunately, the very high umbrellas aren't designed to offer protection from the rain !

As always happens when it is cold, you can see the mist of condensation rising off the crowd as they press together in the narrow streets. It gives a new meaning to human warmth !

I snapped a few pictures of people who were in carnival mode.

Then had people that I'd never met before posing and asking me to take their photo !

There are no social boundaries - everyone talks to everyone during carnival !

The alcohol probably helps - this group were even dressed up as bottles of beer !

Just as we decided to head for home, we bumped into Madhouse Daddy. How's that for coincidence, with all those thousands of people doing carnival ?!

Life Unexpected

Dragons and Fairy Dust


  1. Looks like lots of fun, can almost feel the atmosphere!

    1. It's certainly an amazing atmosphere - totally unique !

  2. Well done to Pierre and Madhouse Daddy for dressing up for the occasion, and tut tut at you for not following the suit, I'd love to see you in carnival outfits too. ;)

    1. There are some on my blog somewhere - I've been a clown and an American Indian with Pierre in a sling when he was a baby !

  3. What brilliant fun. Pierre looks fab

  4. Wow! It really is incredibly colourful, looks like an amazing place to be for their carnival. It's really interesting to see how different cultures celebrate important days. I love that families dress up together, looks like a great place to go for fun and to practice your photography. Thanks so much for linking up to #Whatevertheweather :) x

  5. This looks so incredible. It must have been such an amazing atmosphere. I can't get over the costumes and how much effort people put into them. I think more things like this should happen everywhere. It really puts people in a community spirit. It looks like so much fun! Thank you so much for sharing with #whatevertheweather x

    1. People wear the same costumes every year so they invest quite a lot of time/effort into getting something unique. The market has stalls full of feather boas and all the other colourful accessories. People recognise the costumes but not necessarily the people when they're not dressed up in normal daily life !