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It's an enduring annual tradition throughout much of the European country - each celebration nurtures its own local character.

Mardi Gras was celebrated in Roman Catholic France centuries before the New World was discovered.

The riotous parades and parties in New Orleans got their start as imports by French explorers who introduced a favorite annual custom to the raw social fabric of the colonial Gulf region.

In fact, the most famous French blowout is in the Mediterranean port city of Nice.

The no-holds-barred festivities that take place today are steeped in tradition, from the Carnival mentioned in 1294 by Charles of Anjou, Count of Provence and King of Sicily, to the present day 16-float Flower Parade on the famous seaside - an indulgence of thousands of locally grown fresh-picked blooms.

But the French, unconcerned about the boisterous foreign interpretations of their little fete before the fast, keep on doing their thing.

Wherever you visit in France during Mardi Gras season, be assured there is a chance to celebrate life with pageantry, processions and pastry before Christian sobriety reasserts itself until Easter.

The Flower Parade dates from 1876 and shares top billing with the burning of the mock festival king, the fireworks over the Bay of Angels, and two solid weeks of Riviera revelry.

Carnival, the hedonistic excess of Fat Tuesday, was always too fabulous to contain in France, where mad love for the festival is legend.

Many anthropologists and social historians have expressed their views that early humans practiced polygamy (one man with several women in the marriage union) or polyandry (several men with one woman).

In either case, quite likely the women involved in the union probably had been captives before they were wives.

The customs union operates alongside the free trade area and the single market and includes all EU member states as well as Andorra, the Channel Islands, Monaco, Turkey and San Marino.

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