Celebrate Dunkirk Carnival

January 14, 2018

Dunkirk will always hold a significant place in world history, but it also has plenty of its own local traditions and unique history, including the Dunkirk Carnival.

For two and half months in late winter/early spring, this port town comes alive with parades, parties, and performances.


What’s it all for?

This seems like a reasonable thing to ask. Many European countries have carnival celebrations, but this one is unique to Dunkirk. It dates back to the early 17th century when the town’s fishermen would depart for the north Atlantic to fish for cod around Iceland and Newfoundland. They’d be at sea for many months, so the town would see them off with a huge feast and celebration, and goodwill for their return.

The modern carnival celebrates this heritage in a very vivacious and colourful fashion.


When does it happen?

Originally the festivities lasted just three days – the Trois Joyeuses – ending on Ash Wednesday. Today these three days are the culmination of several weeks of celebration during January and February, with balls and parties held at the weekends, as well as parades and live music.


What goes on?


Speaking of parades and live music, the Carnival events include bands roaming the streets playing their music, while residents join them dressed in bewildering array of costumes. Very long and elaborate umbrellas feature heavily, as do huge reuzes puppets that get carried through the town. These eight-metre high puppets have been a local tradition since the 19th century and are usually made to represent local heroes.

Les harengs  

One of the more peculiar traditions occurs on the Sunday of the Trois Joyeues, when everyone gathers in front of the town hall on Place Saint-Valentin. The crowd repeatedly calls for les harengs, and the mayor obligingly appears on the balcony and chucks several hundred kilos of herring into the crowd.


The final stage of the celebrations is the Rigordon on Place Jean Bart. Where the crowd dances and sings in honour of the square’s namesake: Dunkirk’s naval hero, Jean Bart. The enthusiastically-sung Cantate a Jean Bart rounds off the evening and the festival.


Comments are closed