French Tradition – Dunkirk Carnival

Dunkirk is a small commune in the northernmost tip of France and is very close to the Belgian border. Deriving from the West Flemish words for dune (dun) and church (kerke), Dunkirk is typically famous for being a fishing town and a battlefront during wars.

However, every year Dunkirk plays host to a massive carnival event between the months of January and March. The crazy carnival sweeps through the whole city in an incredible mixture of sounds, colours and lights.

The Story Of The Carnival

The carnival originates back to the early 17th century. The story behind it is that when sailors went away for many months to fish for cod near Newfoundland and Iceland, their departure was an opportunity for a big party for the locals. This tradition is still well celebrated, and today, Dunkirk Carnival has become an event that attracts tens of thousands of people.

For over 2 months, the carnival-lovers go best dressed and gather to parade in a happy, friendly atmosphere. Every Saturday night there is a grand ball for all to attend. Bands and orchestras normally entertain people in the streets every Sunday afternoon.

The highlight of the Carnival week is Shrove Tuesday, with its giant, colourful parades. The carnival-goers parade with an orchestra of sixty musicians dressed as fishermen. They are led by the drum major, dressed in his imperial soldier costume. As the crowd passes in front of the City Hall, they move to the square to receive the herrings: almost 450 kilos of wrapped, smoked herrings are thrown down from the balcony for the occasion!


Photo: AFP