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The lowdown on Bastille Day

Clea Caulcutt · 13 Jul 2012, 14:13

Published: 13 Jul 2012 11:11 GMT+02:00
Updated: 13 Jul 2012 14:13 GMT+02:00

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Fireman’s balls, parades and fireworks... Bastille Day is all about revving up that revolutionary feel. The Local explains. 

Even if you you never knew twirling around in the arms of a fireman had anything to do with celebrating the revolution, just get close and embrace it.

On July 13th and 14th, the French go wild for two days, celebrating Bastille Day or le 14 Juillet as the national day is known in these parts.

Celebrations also mark the beginning of the holiday season when the French start winding down and packing up. 

What exactly are we celebrating?

On July 14th 1789, revolutionaries stormed the Bastille fortress, a symbol of the monarchy and political oppression in Paris. 

One year later, revolutionaries founded the Republic, edging France on the path towards democracy. 

Ironically, on the day the Bastille fell, there were only a handful of prisoners inside the jail including counterfeiters, madmen and an aristocrat. 

Historians explain that when the Bastille was stormed it was no longer being used as a prison. Revolutionaries had in fact targeted the jail to get gunpowder to overthrow the monarchy. 

Where should I celebrate?

In a fire station of course! On July 13th and 14th, firemen open their buildings and courtyards to the public for the traditional Bals des pompiers (fireman’s balls)

This is a fundraising dance. All the proceeds from the balls and the bars go towards funding fire stations across France. French firemen take turns manning the bar throughout the evening. 

The best part is that everybody turns up for the balls. Retirees waltz across the dancefloor while children run free. It’s a time when the French gather for a good night out. 

Of course, you also have to choose your ball wisely. Some will be more traditional and geared towards families. Others will be completely wild, with firemen prancing around in Chippendale fashion. 

What should I go and watch with my hangover?

If you're in Paris go to the Champs Elysées. On the morning of July 14th, the French armed forces march down the main avenue in Paris. On the Place de la Concorde, they salute the French president, the government and diplomats. 

On Saturday, French President Francois Hollande will take part in his first parade. Dubbed "Rain Man", because he attracts the rain everywhere he goes, Hollande can again expect some foul weather. 

Story continues below…

Luckily there will be some scandal to warm the hearts of Parisians. Hollande’s partner Valerie Trierweiler is expected to stage her come-back on July 14th. She is to appear at the parade, her first formal appearance since the infamous tweet scandal

Trierweiler has not been out much since she tweeted that she supported the opponent of Hollande’s ex-partner Ségolène Royale during the legislative elections. Oops!

But the family drama just got more interesting. On Thursday, Thomas Hollande, the son of Royale and the president, said he wasn’t speaking to Trierweiler. The 27-year-old lawyer accused her of trying to destroy his father’s "Mister Normal" image. 

So if you’re out on the Champs Elysée for the parade, keep an eye out for some family fireworks.

Clea Caulcutt (news.france@thelocal.com)

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