Imperatrice Odette 1st Carnaval Granville 1923Imperatrice Odette 1st Carnaval Granville 1923
©Imperatrice Odette 1st Carnaval Granville 1923|Musée d'art et d'histoire de Granville
Key datesCarnaval de Granville

Carnival, the day when…

Have you ever wondered how the Granville Carnival came to be? How it has grown and matured over time? And what changes and major dates have marked its 150 years of existence? Together, let’s retrace its history and discover the day when…

We announced the organization of a GRRRRANDE CAVALCADE

Granville’s carnival tradition is not new. According to contemporary writings, Mardi Gras was celebrated as early as the 16th century. It was the Newfoundland sailors, however, who really popularized the concept: each year, before setting off for the cod banks, the fishermen organized a big party to laugh, dance and drink together. The gaiety of these festivities has endured, and can still be found in today’s carnival. Our carnival owes a great deal to these sailors, but also and above all to a “crowd of young people” who, in the words of a journalist of the time, were “eager to have fun and do good to the poor”. With this in mind, a GRRRRANDE CAVALCADE was organized by the very first carnival commission, setting the date of the event for February 7, 1875. This charity festival featured eight floats, including the Char de la Marine and the Char des Pauvres, as well as several hundred Seigneurs and Chevaliers, Diables and Diablotins, and Harlequins and Colombines. All in a festive, musical atmosphere full of joy and good humor. Curiously, the Granville carnival was not the only one to take place at this time. There was the Carnaval de l’an 8 (February 1800) in Coutances, the Carnaval d’Avranches, whose best editions took place in 1854, 1861 and 1865, and the grande fête du siècle in Saint-Hilaire-du-Harcouët in 1867. The Granville carnival, however, is the only one to have lasted so long, celebrating its 150th edition in 2024.

Carnival saved by shopkeepers

At theend of the 19th century, the Granville carnival was in a bad way. This was no doubt due to the decline of the Great Newfoundland Fishery: in 1893, just 27 ships left the port for the cod banks, compared with more than 40 in the 1870s. And with the decline in the number of sailors present, one couldn’t help noticing that the mood was less cheerful, more gloomy. By 1895, there were no masks to be seen at Mardi Gras, except for a few disguises heading off to public balls. And in 1896, the great cavalcade was so monotonous that there was already talk of the end of Carnival. The population was starting to get seriously worried, especially shopkeepers, who saw the disappearance of the festivities as a major blow to their bottom line. On January 19, 1897, it was decided to take action: a petition, signed by several hundred Granvillais, was sent to the municipality, calling on the councillors to organize festivities or musical gatherings for this year that would bring renewed attention to the town. In response to the outpouring of sympathy generated by this petition, the town council released 400 francs to decorate and illuminate the town’s streets for Carnival. A special commission dedicated to organizing the festivities was also set up within the municipality, and from the following year it played an active part in revitalizing Carnival. And that same year, the very first Carnival King, donated by the casino manager, made his appearance. The carnival was saved.

The Carnival King was joined by a Queen

In January 1920, the plan to revive the Granville carnival was greeted with joy and happiness by a population still reeling from the atrocities of the Great War. And at a preparatory meeting, Gaston Gros, director of the newspaper L’Avenir Républicain, proposed the election of a ” Queen of the Queens of Granville “. This “Queen of Victory”, a symbol of hope and a better life, was to replace King Carnaval, whose mannequin was beginning to show signs of wear. The project eventually fell through, but was not forgotten. Three years later, town councillor Auguste Berthelot revived the idea, proposing the election of an Empress and her two bridesmaids for the 1923 Carnival. This time, the assembly was unanimous in its enthusiasm, and on January 12, 1923, Odette Roche was elected, becoming Odette 1ere, Empress of the Free State of Granville. She thus became the first in a long line of “Dames de Granville”, whose names were to change several times, but whose tradition would remain unshakeable.

Carnival welcomes the Republic of Montmartre

The 1923 GranvilleCarnival will go down in history as one of the most important in its young history, thanks to two key events. The first, as mentioned above, was the election of an Empress to accompany the Carnival King. The second, in 1923, was the visit of the glorious and illustrious Republic of Montmartre to Granville. This Republic, founded two years earlier on the Butte in the Montmartre district, has already made a name for itself when it comes to Granville. Originally founded by Poulbot, Forain, Neumont and Willette, four Parisian painters and cartoonists, its main aim was to unite the artists, sculptors, poets and musicians of the Butte in a spirit of artistic solidarity, and to ” do good in joy” . Its vocation was therefore not only artistic, but also charitable, particularly in the interwar period when the very principle of social services was totally non-existent. Through its philanthropic activities, the young Republic hoped to help the most disadvantaged members of the Butte Montmartre community, especially children, by providing them with meals and medical assistance. The meeting between the Republic of Montmartre and the Granville Carnival, two entities renowned for their charitable activities, is therefore an exceptional event that will go down in the town’s history. One hundred years later, in 2023, the Republic will return to Granville, and a plaque celebrating the alliance between these two great cultural foundations will be affixed to the façade of the town hall.

Bad weather postpones Cavalcade

In the150 years of its existence, the Granville carnival has seen very few cancellations. Of course, the two major conflicts of the 20th century put the festivities on hold. The risk of attacks during the Gulf War also led to the cancellation of the 1991 edition, and more recently, the whole world came to a standstill with the Covid-19 crisis. So it takes a lot to stop the people of Granville from celebrating their carnival, and a fickle weather forecast is certainly not going to slow them down. It’s not the right time of year to celebrate under the sun: in Granville, the months of February and March are more synonymous with rain than with fine weather. But come rain or shine, the grand cavalcade is always on parade! Always…except twice. In 1972, on Sunday February 13 (a bad omen if ever there was one!), a storm of rare violence arrived from the west and swept across France. Despite this gale uprooting trees, the Granvillais remain motivated, but it’s the insurance policies that step in, wisely stating that it would be preferable to postpone the cavalcade to a later date. The floats did indeed go out for this carnival, but only on Sunday April 30, two and a half months later. The second postponement came a few years later, in 1985. This time, it was the snow, eternal enemy of the people of Granville, which had unleashed itself on the town on Sunday February 17, making it quite simply impossible to bring out the floats. So we’ll have to wait until Sunday March 3 to admire the great cavalcade of this 111th edition of the carnival, this time in the pouring rain.

Granville's children follow in the tradition

In 2005, Jean-Pierre Doron, metal sculptor and carnival regular, took over as head of the event’s new Organizing Committee. To mark the occasion, and with a view to getting new generations of Granvillais and Granvillais more involved in the event, a major competition was organized by the Committee and offered to local schools. The task facing young schoolchildren is simple: come up with a poster for Granville’s next carnival. Working individually or in groups, they set to work creating works of art, each more colorful and festive than the last.After an initial selection of 10 posters by the Organizing Committee, the overall winner is chosen and presented to the public. The operation was a success. The children’s enthusiasm for the competition was such that the organizing committee didn’t hesitate for a second to repeat the operation for the following year’s festivities. And today, the poster competition has become an integral part of the Granville carnival tradition.

The Carnival was classified by UNESCO

On December 2, 2016, the Granville Carnival was officially inscribed on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage (or ICH). This is a great victory for the Organizing Committee, the carnival-goers and the town of Granville, who see this listing as the reward for nearly seven years of research and administrative procedures. However, when the notion was proposed by the Committee in autumn 2009, it was not necessarily a foregone conclusion. Not that carnival-goers weren’t enthusiastic about the idea of receiving a label to promote their event, but the fact is that in 2009, the concept of intangible cultural heritage is still relatively obscure. Few Granvillais really know what it is, and France itself only recently ratified the Unesco convention on the subject. Despite this small “obstacle”, the Committee is fully committed to its project, calling on the Direction des patrimoines and the Centre régional de culture ethnologique et technique de Basse Normandie to help with the administrative formalities. Extensive research was also carried out to convince the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of ICH of the legitimacy of the application. After sending in the application and a long period of deliberation, the project was finally recognized.