You have probably heard of Rio Carnival in Brazil, and Notting Hill Carnival in London, but what you may not know is that every year, Paris, as well, holds its very own Carnival. This tradition began after the banning of the Fête des Fous, a feast that would normally take place on 1st January, in which hierarchical order in the church would be turned on its head. Through what was originally a response to the Bible teaching: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise” (Cor 1:27), a lowly boy priest would be elected mock bishop, or ‘Lord of Misrule’, for the day. He would give a type of parodic mass, and then the congregation would remain in the church, gambling and partying, for the rest of the day. You can see an interpretation of this irreverent festival in Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. By the 15th century, this event had become utterly sacrilegious, and so it was outlawed, and eventually replaced by the Carnaval de Paris.

Instead of taking place in January, the Carnaval falls in February or early March, just before le Mardi gras, seemingly as a final moment of decadence and hedonism before the abstinence of Lent. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it would involve a Promenade de masques, where a parade of people dressed up in disguises would work their way through the streets, in a sea of colour, confetti, music and dance. During carnivals of the jours gras before Lent there might also be a Fête du Boeuf Gras, in which bulls would be led through the city by butcher boys.

The tradition of the Carnaval de Paris was almost forgotten in the 20th century, especially during the hardship of the Second World War. However, in the 1990s, efforts were made to reinstate it, and since then it has taken place every year, the costumes, and colours becoming more and more impressive and daring as time goes on.

a carnival mask