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La rentrée to Bals des pompiers: The 25 seasons of the French year

Emma Pearson
Emma Pearson - [email protected]
La rentrée to Bals des pompiers: The 25 seasons of the French year
Mushrooms, protests and oysters all have a season in France. All photos: AFP

Some countries have just four seasons, but those lucky enough to live in France have a dizzying array of different 'seasons' defined by food, drink, dress and festivals. Here is our guide to the real seasons of France.



La rentrée

Now technically, of course, the year begins on January 1st, but France's real 'new year' is la rentrée (the return) in September.

It's when les grandes vacances end, people across France dust the sand off their shoes and get back to work after the holidays. It marks the start of a new school year and also 'la rentrée politique', when politicians - also freshly returned from their holidays - outline their programme of government for the next 11 months.

READ ALSO Why la rentrée is so much more than a new school year

La rentrée might begin with a rash of social events as you catch up with friends and hear about their holidays, but it's also a popular time to take up a new hobby, start a new class or make a resolution to improve yourself in some way (get fit, lose weight, learn a language etc).


La vendange

Vineyard owners traditionally begin the harvesting of the grapes in September, although rising global temperatures mean that beginning the harvest in August is not unusual these days. 

Foire aux vins

Ahead of the wine harvest, shops clear their shelves for the new vintages with foires aux vins - wine sales. These are good places to pick up a few special bottles at bargain prices. 

Mushroom foraging season

As mushrooms come into season you will see heaped stalls at the market, but many French people also enjoy foraging for their own mushrooms. Fortunately, pharmacies offer a mushroom-checking service to ensure that your haul is safe to be eaten.

What you need to know for safe an enjoyable mushroom foraging in France

La chasse

If you live in the country, September is the time to be ready to duck as the hunting season begins.

Hunting in France largely involves shooting and hunters are not always the most scrupulous about health and safety, so it pays to be wary if you're walking in the country when la chasse is out. The exact dates vary according to the region, but in general the hunting season runs from September to February.

Huge coats and scarves season

As soon as the temperatures begin to drop even a couple of degrees in September, the French dig out their big coats and scarves, even though the weather may still seem pretty mild to anyone who grew up in northern Europe, the northern states of the USA or Canada.


Halloween is not as a big a deal in France as in the USA, although it is gradually becoming more popular but November 1st is All Saints Day (Toussaint) and that is a public holiday. Schools also have a two-week holiday around this period.


Calendar season

With the end of the year in sight, calendars go on sale and many groups sell their own door-to-door to aid good causes. We recommend the pompiers (firefighters) calendar, purely in the interest of supporting a good cause, obviously.

Racelette/fondue season

Cold weather brings with it a variety of France's heartier winter classics, in particular the delicious melted cheese dishes of raclette and fondue, which are traditionally only eaten as the temperatures fall.

6 of France's best winter dishes made with melted cheese

Double holiday month

November is the month that always has two holidays - November 1st (Toussaint) and Armistice Day on November 11th (although whether you get a day off work depends on what day of the week the holidays fall on).


Vin chaud

Cold weather also means hot wine and the hot, spiced vin chaud is widely sold throughout the cold months in France, sometimes at special stalls or at Christmas markets but also in ordinary bars and cafés if you need a winter warmer.

4 things to know about vin chaud in France

Oyster season

Tradition (coming from a time before fridges were invented) dictates that oysters should only be eaten in months that have an 'r' in the name, which basically means winter.

Popular throughout the season they're a really big deal at Christmas where they play a starring role in the traditional seafood banquet.



If you really love Christmas, head to north-east France where the influence of neighbouring Germany ensures the best Christmas markets and traditions. Christmas festivals, markets and events exist across France, however, with lots of presents and special treats. Children get another two weeks off school.

New Year

The first day of a new year is a public holiday in France (unless it falls on a weekend as it did in 2022 and 2023), but the event itself isn't as much of a big party as you get in other countries. The wild night comes in July, more on that later . . .


Galette des rois 

As the new year begins, boulangeries fill up with special cakes wearing gold crowns. These are the galettes des rois, traditionally eaten on January 6th to mark epiphany, along with a complicated ceremony to decide who will be lucky in the year ahead.

Galette des rois: Everything you need to know about France's royal tart

Truffle season 

If you're in south west France the 'black diamond' season runs from December to March as the black truffles particular to the region are harvested and sold off at specialist markets.


February sees La Chandeleur, the day when the French eat crêpes and indulge in some complicated rituals to bring luck for the year ahead (hey, everybody needs a bit of luck, right?)

La Chandeleur: The day the French go crazy over crêpes


Easter marks a two-week holiday for French schools and a single day off for French workers - Easter Monday is a holiday in France but only workers in the Alsace-Lorraine region get Good Friday off, for reasons to do with war with Germany.

The day itself is marked with family dinners, extravagant cakes from the patisserie, lots of chocolate and a cute story about flying bells

Riots and lucky flowers

May 1st, the international workers' day, is a public holiday in France, usually marked by big marches from trade unions and much smaller riots from the usual suspects.

If you're not a fan of rioting you could always join in the other May Day tradition of buying a muguet (Lily-of-the-Valley) flower. These are sold across France in aid of various good causes and are said to bring good luck to the buyer.

May Day really means to the French

The holiday month

May always sees at least two public holidays, but there are also two floating holidays that sometimes fall in May to create a year like 2023, which saw a whopping four holiday days. 

The fixed ones are May 1st and the commemoration of VE Day on May 8th (although whether you get extra time off work depends on the year) and the others are the Christian festivals of Ascension and Pentecost.

Why 2023 (especially May) is a great year for holidays in France 

Rosé season

As the temperatures begin to rise, big coats are cast aside and suddenly the wine shops are full of rosé. A lightly chilled rosé wine is of course a classic summer drink for any occasion and is especially popular in Provence where many rosés are made. As temperatures rise, spritzes are also seen on café terraces across the country. 

Rosé, spritz and pressé: 5 things to drink in France in the summer

Picnic season

Good weather also means picnics, which the French tend to take more seriously than other nations. If you're invited to a picnic don't think you can get away with bringing a ham sandwich and a couple of bags of crisps - think salads, a selection of good cheeses or charcuterie, fresh baguette, something from the patisserie to finish with and of course, wine.

Soft fruit as far as the eye can see 

Seasonality of fruit and vegetables is more strictly observed in France and as many soft fruits come into season in the summer months expect to see peaches, apricots, strawberries and cherries piled high at your local market once the harvests begin.

Firemen's balls

July 14th marks France's Fête nationale (known as Bastille Day in the anglophone world) which is a public holiday and also sees lots of military parades. The evening sees fireworks displays across France and lots of parties.

But the best bit is the Bals des pompiers (firemen's balls) which France's famously well-toned firefighters host at their stations for the general public.

What you need to know about Bastille Day

Everyone on the beach

July and August are the summer holiday months when French cities empty out and French people decamp to the beaches or the mountains. You can pretty much forget about getting much work done over the summer as most people will be away but you might enjoy the feeling of a strangely deserted Paris (apart from in the tourist spots).

The 8 signs that August has arrived in France

Avoid driving on the final weekend in August (unless you particularly enjoy traffic jams) - the roads are normally extremely busy as everyone heads back home for la rentrée.


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