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  • Nice Carnival

    Nice Carnival

    The most noteworthy of them all is the Nice Carnival, which was the first carnival in France, and one of the most famous in the world. It is known for its flower parades, giant cardboard masks and floral floats. © Only France

  • Carnival doughnuts

    Carnival doughnuts

    Celebrations involve making "beignets de carnaval" (carnival doughnuts) or "bugnes" (angel wings), as well as fritures (small fish-shaped chocolates). © Photocuisine

Mardi gras has become a day of pancakes and carnivals for many of us, but the date remains linked to Christian traditions.

The Last “Fat” Tuesday

Mardi gras (Shrove Tuesday) never falls on a set date, although it is always a Tuesday, as its name indicates. The day depends on the date of Easter, and is set exactly 47 days before that date. Indeed, in the Christian tradition, Mardi gras would conclude a “fat” week which preceded 40 days of Lent (“gras” means fat in French). Lent was a period of fasting, which meant “eating thin” until Easter. Mardi gras was therefore an occasion for people to empty their cupboards and have a feast in order to finish all the “fat” foods in the home, including meat and eggs.  

A day of enjoying doughnuts and crêpes

The day of Mardi gras is marked by popular gastronomic traditions. People still prepare pancakes but also “carnival doughnuts” or “bugnes”. These doughnuts existed as far back as Ancient Rome! Pancakes and doughnuts were an opportunity to finish reserves of eggs and sugar, and fill up with energy before the fasting period. Nowadays, it's mainly about indulging in the sin of gluttony with family and friends.

Today's Carnival in France

Carnival comes from the Latin carne levare, which means "to remove meat", or in other words, prepare for Lent. It is a traditional time of entertainment and forgetting about life's worries before the strict Lent period begins, and there are Mardi gras carnivals throughout the whole of France, in Dunkirk, Cholet, Nantes, Cherbourg, Mulhouse, Chalon-sur-Saône and Albi etc. The most noteworthy of them all is the Nice Carnival, which was the first carnival in France, and one of the most famous in the world. It is known for its flower parades, giant cardboard masks and floral floats.