Originally commemorating the end of World War One, Armistice Day is now marked around the world as a day of remembrance for those who lost their lives in all wars. Here’s how the day is marked in France.
1. It’s a public holiday
Although a lot of countries mark November 11th in some way, not many have declared it as a public holiday. But in France employees get the day off work and public buildings, post offices, banks and a lot of shops close.
This year the 11th falls on a Thursday, creating one of the few opportunities in 2021 to faire le pont.
2. There are parades
Most town have their own parade and wreaths are laid at the war memorials. If you live near a town centre there may well be road closures for the parade. Virtually every commune in France has a war memorial listing the men from the local area who died for their country (mort pour le patrie).
In Paris, the French president lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown soldier at the Arc de Triomphe.
There is also a minute’s silence at 11am.
3. People wear a bleuet
The red poppy synonymous with Remembrance Day in the UK is not used, instead the symbol of remembrance in France is the bleuet, or cornflower.
It was chosen because cornflowers have traditionally symbolised “pure and delicate” sentiments, while blue is one of the colours of the French flag, and was also the colour of many soldiers’ uniforms in the First World War.
Profits from bleuet sales go to veterans’ charities but the flower is less ubiquitous in France than the poppy is in the UK.
4 Its full name is Armistice de la Première Guerre mondiale (Armistice of the First World War)
The day was originally adopted to mark the moment – 11am on November 11th, 1918 – when the armistice treaty came into effect and soldiers fighting in World War I laid down their arms.
As time went on, the day came to mark the victims of all wars and several countries changed the name – in the UK it is now Remembrance Day and in the US it is Veterans Day – but France has stuck with Armistice Day.
5. Some villages stand as permanent memorials
As well as millions of people losing their lives, France also suffered major structural damage during World War I, as large parts of the north of the country became battlefields.
Among the villages razed to the ground during the four years of fighting were Beaumont-en-Verdunois, Bezonvaux, Cumières-le-Mort-Homme, Fleury-devant-Douaumont; Haumont-près-Samogneux and Louvemont-Côte-du-Poivre, all of which are located in the départment of Meuse.
In 1919, the land was bought by the government and it was decided that the six villages would not be rebuilt or inhabited, but would remain as memorials, each with a mayor and an annual budget to take care of the land.