Mardi-Gras and Carnaval season in France is often centred on food, because eating richer, fatty dishes before the Lent was the main focus of the holiday. Another aspect was public celebrations and parades all over France. Mardi-Gras is the time to enjoy outdoor feasts, masquerades, masked balls, pageants, and street performances by magicians and stilt walkers. Traditional dishes of Carnaval in France include crêpes, waffles, and beignets. The biggest parades are held in Nice, Mulhouse, Dunkirk, and Annecy.
Nice Carnival is one of Europe's major winter celebrations. It was established around 1294 according to a historical record by the Count of Provence, Charles Anjou, who wrote about "the joyous days of carnival." In 1873, the Carnival got a parade, masquerades, satirical floats and performances. Nice Carnival attracts over a million spectators during a two-week period. Every year, artists create about 20 floats and figurines in papier-mâché for the parade which takes place on the Promenade des Anglais.
The major highlight of the Nice Carnival is the world-famous Bataille de Fleurs (Battle of Flowers) which takes place a few times throughout the Carnival. The festivities end with a huge firework display to music over the Baie des Anges.
Mulhouse Carnival in Southern Alsace was one of France’s greatest from 1920 to 1935. Being on the borders with Switzerland and Germany, this region is famous for its winter festivities and parades that march past the town hall. It celebrates satire and features all-night celebrations with bars and cafes open till morning.
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. 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.
Every year, after Shrove Tuesday, Annecy recreates the magic of the Venetian carnival. Since 1996 the carnival in Annecy gathers several hundred masks from all over Europe. The festivities take place in the old town, by the lake, on Le Pâquier field, in the Jardins de l'Europe. Thousands of spectators and photographers come to see this amazing spectacle.