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France's biggest celebration: What you need to know about Bastille Day

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France's biggest celebration: What you need to know about Bastille Day
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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 never knew twirling around in the arms of a fireman had anything to do with celebrating the revolution, just get close and embrace it (the spirit of the revolution we mean. Obviously).

Around July 14th, the French go wild, celebrating Bastille Day or le 14 Juillet as the national day is known in these parts.

READ ALSO World leaders to join Macron in Paris for Bastille Day celebrations

This year the festival falls on a Sunday, which on the minus side means foregoing the usual bank holiday, but on the plus side is the perfect excuse to make the festivities last two days instead of one.

Celebrations also generally 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 in some towns will be opening 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. 

READ ALSO Why are French firefighters so smokin' hot?

What else can I do to show my support for the revolution?

If you're in Paris go to the Champs Elysées. On the morning of July 14th, the French armed forces will be marching down the main avenue in Paris. On the Place de la Concorde, they salute the French president, the government and diplomats and overseas leaders, which this year include German's Angela Merkel and Britain's Theresa May.

Almost all French towns will have some sort of celebrations, from parades to fetes and concerts and dinner. Find out the details for your area at your local mairie.

Fireworks are also a big part of the celebration. Paris of course has a major display but many other smaller towns and cities will have big displays, often paired with music.

But don't go too mad because the other downside of the day falling on a Sunday is that we all have to get up and go to work the next day. Unless we drunkenly decide to overthrow the system again, of course.

 
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