The colourful carnival of Dunkirk takes place every year from January to March and now attracts crowds of an estimated 40,000, marching, dancing and singing on the streets of the town. Over several weeks, there is a series of weekend balls and street processions with bands, playing traditional carnival songs and revellers in outrageous costumes carrying coloured umbrellas on long handles.
It is hard to explain why this old tradition has endured, or why the success of this great gathering event is constantly renewed over the years. The origins of the Carnaval have got lost in the mists of time, but some claim that the first parades of fishermen would have take place during the festivals given by the shipowners before their departure to Iceland. However, towards the end of the 18th century, the shipowners began to withdraw from this custom and the sailors seized the opportunity of this period to take their recreational days earlier. In the early 19th century, the port of Dunkirk already had one of the most original carnivals in France.