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The Giants of France

Giants of the North at the Carnaval de Dunkerque

In France there are giants – they attend carnivals and important events and there are hundreds of them!

The géants as they are called in France have been known for centuries and it is said that originally they represented religious figures from biblical stories.  Nowadays they represent local or imaginary heroes, famous folk and animals and they are a major attraction at carnivals and festivals in France, particularly in the north of France where there are more than three hundred giants – and their population is increasing.

The French giants have the opportunity to meet other giants when they are guests at carnivals and it is quite well known that a man and lady giant may fall in love and get married, naturally this is an excuse to celebrate.  The giants can even have children who are christened – which gives everyone another reason to party, indeed the Millenium celebrations saw a giant baby boom in France.  A giant may also die when he or she is old and then one of the children will grow and take the coveted role of head of the giant family.

The giants have been around for over six hundred years in France where they are known as géants or reuzes.  Reuzes is actually a Flemish word and dates back to earlier times when parts of what is now northern France were territories of Flanders.  Any biblical representation was lost when the giants, after a period of lassitude were resurrected to a state of huge popularity in the 1800s when they took on the mantle of heroes and local representatives.

The giants are a source of great local pride to the towns where they live, they reflect the origins of the folk of towns and villages and they are often dressed to represent local heroes or animals of the region including chickens, cows, pigs, cats and even dragons.

The giants are constructed by creating a light willow frame over which papier mache is applied to create the face and body, some, the ones which are light enough, are set on a wheeled trolley type apparatus and have space for someone to climb under the frame, hoist him or her up and manipulate the giant, taking part in parades and dancing amongst the crowds.  Others are so heavy that they are mounted on frames which are carried along on carts drawn by horses or by teams of strong porters.

If you want to meet French giants the website Geants Carnaval publishes a calendar of appearances every year.

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