Today is the French National holiday - la fête nationale. Strangely enough, here in the US we refer to it as Bastille Day. But there’s no such thing as Bastille Day in France, and it is definitely considered a “faux pas” to wish a french person Happy Bastille Day!
France’s national holiday isn’t named after the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution because the holiday isn’t really about that event. Several different dates were considered in 1880 to serve as the national holiday, including August 4th, the day on which the feudal system was abolished.
July 14th eventually won out because it was the day of la Fête de la Fédération, a joyous celebration in 1790 that honored the new government and commemorated the one year anniversary of the storming of the Bastille (a prison where Louis XVI jailed citizens for speaking out against the government).
By the transitive property, la fête du 14-juillet does celebrate this bloody and symbolic victory during the French Revolution, but the holiday is mostly about national pride: the tricolor bleu-blanc-rouge flag, France’s national anthem La Marseillaise, and the values liberté, fraternité, and égalité are much more important to this holiday than the storming of the Bastille.
La Fête Nationale is probably called “Bastille Day” in English because “Bastille” is a brief, concise and unambiguous reference to the storming of the prison of the Bastille in Paris on July 14,1789, by 954 men and one woman, armed with pikes and miscellaneous firearms, yelling “Tous à la Bastille !” (Everybody out of the pool).
The actual event may sound a little disappointing. After a short battle, the nonmilitary governor in charge of the fortress, by then mostly being used as a hospital, simply gave up. When the victors finally made their way down to the “dungeons,” which turned out to be spacious, almost luxurious, they discovered there were only seven prisoners left in the place. The others, including the Bastille’s most famous inmate, the Marquis de Sade, had been transferred somewhere else shortly before.
La fête du 14-juillet is celebrated in France with food, dancing, music, and of course, fireworks. By far the biggest tradition of this holiday celebrating national pride is an extravagant military parade that takes place in Paris each July 14th, which is both the largest and oldest (since 1880) regularly held military parade in Europe.
To all my friends in France - "à votre santé"
If you would like to visit France, let's talk. Please contact me at Lene@PerfectlyPlannedJourneys.com or 703-927-0588.
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