Have you heard of a three month long carnival? It happens in Limoux, France. The carnival of Limoux is known as the longest carnival in the world. It extends through the weekends of January, February and March, till the Night of the Blanquette.
This is a 400 year old celebration, the origin of which can be traced back to the celebration of the millers in the 14th century. At that time, the millers conducted a small celebration when they were released from an obligation to pay taxes to the Dominican priory at Prouille. They conducted processions through the streets with the accompaniment of musicians throwing sugared almonds and flour. At present they throw confetti instead of flour.
The carnival began to be conducted regularly from the 1600s in Limoux. There is more to this traditional carnival than just dance and merrymaking. The processions and other activities in the carnival are governed by a discipline of ancient customs. It also helps to preserve one of the ancient French dialects called ‘Occitan’. The songs and plays will be in Occitan language.
There will be processions conducted on all Saturdays and Sundays during the carnival. People turn out in large numbers to take part in this traditional carnival. They dress up in various costumes and enigmatic masks. The processions and parades are accompanied by hundreds of musicians and musical bands. The masked men go around among the spectators singing songs and playing pranks and presenting impromptu performances which are of a rowdy nature.
Thousands come to witness the parades and festivities. A plethora of tourists also come to enjoy the age old carnival. There are three processions each on Saturdays and Sundays – 11 am, 4.30 pm and 10 pm. The three processions are of three different types.
The processions are conducted by various ‘Guilds’. The morning procession is more of a caricature type. The aim of this is to make fun of certain practices in the society, current politics etc. it also may have some themes of public interest like ‘drug abuse’, political issues, international news etc. So the guilds take turns to lead the morning carnival.
At 11 o’clock, the musicians lead their guild in a procession to one of the cafés in the square. The leading musicians start a waltz and other musicians accompany them with instruments. They are followed by a group of dressed up masked people. These are termed ‘Goudils’. They are the followers or fans of the musicians. Even the tourists are allowed to dress up and join them. The more the number of the goudils, the more popular are the musicians. This is a wonderful experience for the tourists and locals.
The afternoon processions are not so wild. It is of a more sober character. The pierrots are carnival participants with a sad white mask and a loose dress. They carry long ribboned reeds called carabenas. During the afternoon procession they go about swaying to a slow music showering confetti on everybody.
The night procession is all mysterious. The pierrots go about along the darkened archways in the republic square. Once in a while resin-fed torches are lighted to reveal them.
The carnival that lasted for ten weeks will end on the second Sunday from Christmas. In the evening the effigy of His Majesty the King of Carnival is carried to the square and burned. Masked men dressed in baggy tunics and pantaloons dance around the funeral pyre in slow rhythmic movements. It is believed that they are mourning the extinction of the ancient dialect Occitan and the death of their king, who was condemned and executed long ago. This is called the ‘Night of the Blanquette’.
by Marina Chernyak
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