Dunkirk Carnival | Carnaval de Dunkerque – caught up in the madness!

Written by on February 17, 2013 in My French Life
Dunkirk Carnival

The arrow points to where I stood to get the video below!

On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday – if you happen to be in the town of Dunkerque (English: Dunkirk) in the north of France you will notice strange things starting to happen around you.

In the streets in the centre of town and around about, you’ll see people dressed in brightly coloured clothes, sporting weird and wonderful make-up. You’ll bump into giant bugs, Asterix the Gaul and Bart Simpson. Everywhere there are men dressed as women, it’s as though you’ve falling into a world of Pantomime Dames and almost everyone you see will offer to hug or kiss you! It is the first day of the Trois Joyeuses – the bizarre and utterly joyous Carnival of Dunkerque – or should I say Funkerque?!

Throughout the day more and more strangely dressed people arrive, the bars and brasseries are choc-a-bloc with revellers and songs are sung very loudly. In the town square the local giants look on benevolently at all the hoo-ha, singing and by now dancing.

Normally, as a travel writer, I’ll usually pick a spot where I can observe sensibly.

However, throwing caution to the wind I decided I wanted to be in the thick of it and by this I meant for me and Mark the cameraman to be in the square outside the Town Hall. This is where at 5.00 pm the crowds congregate for a totally mad episode at this crazy carnival. We knew that a band would arrive in the already crowded square followed by even more jubilant revelers and then they would all move backwards and forwards; after that the Mayor of Dunkerque would order the windows of the Mairie (Town Hall) to be opened and he and the party goers inside would throw smoked herring into the crowds below!

I talked to a young French woman called Chloe who was concerned at our plan and warned us that it gets very “wild”, the crowd would swing back and forth and “there is no way to withstand the momentum, you must go with the flow” she said. However I had other ideas and wanted a video of the proceedings so we tied ourselves to a post right in the middle of it all so we could film it! The arrow above is pointing to our post!

There we were, tied to a metal post with a few others hanging on, surrounded by several thousand people when we heard drum beats approaching, it was like that moment in Jurassic Park when the T-Rex arrives and the water ripples… The noise level built up and up and became a deafening roar as the crowds passed in a circle before us and then moved back and forth, and Chloe was right – you can’t defy the movement, it’s just too big!

Our tie came undone and we were caught up in the maelstrom, strangers were pushed up against one another and everyone was calling “enchanté” – “pleased to meet you“ – as they were thrust up close! How we managed to capture this amazing, crazy carnival of Dunkirk on video is beyond me but… we did.

It was like being in the eye of a storm and I think it shows just how mad and brilliant it was!

The windows of the Town Hall were thrown open, the Mayor appeared on the balcony, a huge cheer went up and then hundreds of smoked herring came raining down onto our heads and literally thousands of people scrambled to catch one, apparently they are delicious.

The most fun, friendliest, craziest, noisiest, oddest and best carnival I’ve ever been to!

Dunkirk Tourist office website for information and details

Gallery of Dunkirk Carnival photos:


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