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Dunkirk Carnival is one of the biggest and most famous carnivals in northern France, running from February to mid-March on weekends and some weekdays. It began in the 18th century as a special feast before the visscherbende (fishermen) take off to the sea to catch the cod. Now about 40,000 people participate in carnival processions and fun events.
The culmination of the festivities occurs on Three Joyful Days: the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. On these days Dunkirk witnesses the wildest celebrations, parties and parades. Various fisher bands compete with each other as they parade the streets. Musicians are dressed in traditional yellow fishermen's raincoats and sing traditional songs. The parade madness lasts around 5 hours from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m., finishing at the Town Hall.
Having arrived at the Town Hall on Place Saint-Valentin, the crowds start to demand the herring. And at 5 p.m. the mayor of Dunkirk throws some 500 kg of herring into the crowd from the balcony. Carnival goers are expected to catch herring and engage in some serious battles underneath the balcony.