Every year around December 6, the end-of-year festivities in Carcassonne are ushered in with the arrival of Saint Nicolas and a torch-lit procession. The merrymaking parade starts on a Saturday at the Medieval Citadel and winds its way to the Saint-Louis Bastide. Hundreds of fire torches and LED light torches illuminate the Medieval streets and enlighten the hearts of the spectators and participants.
Ever since living in the South of France, I have wanted to go to the Saint-Nicolas and the torch-lit procession in Carcassonne. But every time something came up, or we celebrated ‘Sinterklaas’ the Dutch way. This year, we finally made it to the Marche aux Flambeaux, yearly organised around Saint Nicolas’ name day on the 6th of December. Unfortunately, the kids- sixteen and fourteen years old- don’t believe in Saint Nicolas anymore. However, they joined Chéri and me all the way to Carcassonne. Maybe it had something to do with the prospect of Sinterklaas gifts the next day…
The Marche aux Flambeaux started at 18h30 on the Pont-Levis (drawbridge) in front of the Porte Narbonnaise. The family and I arrived rather late, around 18h00, but still found a parking spot at the Cité parking lot. Chéri even managed to buy torches at the Place du Prado for three euros per torch. He could choose between LED-lit torches or fire-lit ones, and I don’t think I have to say which ones he bought… The torch sales revenue is completely donated to the Telethon association. This is a yearly national event to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy disease organised since 1987. After the fun part of setting the torches on fire, the procession slowly started to walk. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people followed Saint-Nicolas and the sound of drums. Several members of the medieval reenactment groups La Compagnie des Trente and Les Échansons du Carcarrès enlivened the parade.
Chéri and I were a bit worried by all those people carrying flaming torches. But everybody paid attention, and all went well. In an hour, we walked from the citadel to the Place Carnot at the Bastide. Looking back at the Pont Vieux, I saw a magnificent spectacle of flickering flames lined up in a row with the illuminated citadel in the background. The big torches lasted until the Square Gambetta in front of the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Here, we could put the torches out in big barrels. And then the Christmas festivities started. The Marche aux Flambeaux is also the start of Carcassonne’s so-called ‘Magie de Noël’, divided over various locations in town. The parade continued to Place Carnot with its vast Christmas market around a giant ice-skating rink. By this time, the drums went crazy, and Saint Nicolas happily danced with the knights and ladies while waving at the children.