Last weekend wildly dressed characters danced giddily through the streets of northern France. Yes, it was Pride in Lille – but over in Dunkirk, les géants du Nord took to the streets.
We were lucky enough to catch a bit of the former on Saturday and the whole of the latter on Sunday.
Les géants du Nord date back to the Middle Ages. These folkloric characters are thought to have been Portuguese originally, but their popularity spread to Spain.
Back then, this piece of northern France was part of the Spanish-ruled Netherlands, and with the Spanish influence came these giant characters.
The first one recorded in this part of the world was in 1530. It came from the town of Douai, 40km south of Lille.
If Sunday’s parade through Dunkirk is anything to go by, they are still popular today. They serve to represent various towns of northern France and of Belgium – and to bring together the people of the towns.
Each of the géants has a name and a history to go with it. They can also marry and have children, apparently. I didn’t ask how.
For us, they gave us an opportunity to visit Dunkirk. It’s a town we’ve never been into properly – we’ve merely passed through the ferry port.
Badly damaged in World War Two, it was rebuilt in the 1950s, which, to be honest, isn’t one of my favourite architectural periods. Sunday was the hottest, sunniest day of the year so far and I think we probably saw the town at its best.
However, I suspect that the people carrying the characters may have felt rather differently about the good weather, given the size and weight of the géants…