A parade, costumes, and a party, on the streets of Paris? What could be better!
Dating back to the 16th century (at the earliest) Paris has held a special carnival following the Feast of Fools. In order for Catholics and Christians to best enjoy the final days before purging all excesses from their lives for Lent, they overcompensated by going extra wild at Carnival. At Carnival, everyone could be teased, be who they wanted to be under a mask, and feel free from social constraints—no rules! (Think about the “Topsy Turvy” song from beginning of the movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It’s like that up until the part when everyone starts picking on Quasimodo.) People mingled in the streets, decked out in elaborate masks and costumes in the medieval style. It was a wild couple weeks of celebration, that was ultimately condensed into one day of festivities and a parade, to the chagrin of many die-hard partiers.
For about 40 years at the end of the 20th century, the parade went on hiatus, finally returning in 1997 and growing in popularity ever since -but still a relative small affair, compared for example to the huge Nice Carnival. The strangest part of the contemporary Paris Carnival is its parade leader: Pimprenelle, the red dress-wearing cow from the region of Limousin. As the mascot of the parade, Pimprenelle leads the ‘promenade de boeuf gras’ in an homage to the 16th century tradition of leading a cow through the streets on the last day before Lent to remind people to use up their meat. (The origins of ‘boeuf gras’ in Paris are highly debated, partially because in 1871 Paris’ police prefecture lost all of its records—it was a tumultuous year.)
For it’s 20th revival anniversary, the Paris Carnival will take place on Sunday, February 26th, starting at Gambetta at 2 p.m (Paris 20ème, métro Gambetta) and marching all the way to the Place de la République, where the celebration will continue until 8 p.m. This year’s theme is La Ronde des fruits et légumes autour du monde, or the “Circle of Fruits and Vegetables Around the World.” Expect to see bright colors, costumes, performers, live music, and lots of excitement. If you don’t have anything medieval or carnivalesque to wear, put on a graphic tee with a pineapple on it and wear your colorful, wide-rimmed sunglasses. Go big and bold!
Parade Route/Viewing Route:
Begin on Place Auguste Métivier. Go west on Avenue Gambetta and then north/right on Boulevard de Ménilmontant. Keep straight onto Boulevard de Belleville, then west/left on Rue du Faubourg du Temple. Continue on Rue du Faubourg du Temple, until Place de la République where the parade ends in a party. Stand along these streets to see the parade go by!