You are in France on Bastille Day or the 14th of July as French people call their National Day? And you want to celebrate it the French way? Celebrations for the French National Day but also authentic experiences, far from the touristic mainstream activities you will remember. Follow me and I’ll tell you what French people do on July 14th in France!
And the good news is that the traditional Bastille Day parade and celebrations will take place this year 2021 due to the decline of the Covid-19 pandemic!
Some History: what are we commemorating for the French national day?
Bastille: The symbol of tyranny
First, let’s do some History refresher. The French National Day is internationally known as Bastille Day. But what does it mean and what happened on the 14th July back then?
On July 14th in France, we commemorate the storming of the Bastille in 1789, the start of the French revolution that would last 10 years before the Napoleon Bonaparte coup. The Bastille was a fort, a national prison and an arms storage depending on the time. Under King Louis XVI, the last king of France, the Bastille was a State Prison, a symbol of the monarch’s absolute power and tyranny. There were both high-level prisoners threatening the king’s power and also common prisoners.
The Parisian revolt: the start of the French Revolution
Before the French Revolution, hate toward the absolute monarch increased along with poverty, inequalities and taxes.
In spring 1789, the French revolution started with the organisation of General Estates by the King as a last tentative to calm the tensions. He requested the 3 powers (the Nobles, the Clergy and the Third Estate – the people) to gather present reforms.
It was too late, the French people didn’t want an absolute monarchy and were inspired by the American example with their Constitution established two years before. The French wanted to implement a Parliamentary Monarchy.
Parisians started to fear an army intervention and decided to defend themselves, but they needed arms. Arms that could be found in the Bastille prison! Taking the Bastille would both take down the symbol of absolute monarchy and arm the people! The storming of the Bastille was the first people participation in the French Revolution!
Parisians demolished the Bastille the following day!
How do French people celebrate it?
The Paris Parade on the Champs Elysées
The official celebration is a Parade in Paris on the Champs Elysées. The French National day parade is a military parade, a review of the French Army Corps in front of the President rostrum.
The parade becomes the tribute of the Nation to those who died for it. The Parade is broadcasted nationwide and usually starts at 10 am on the 14th of July.
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The 14th July fireworks
The French National day wouldn’t be a celebration without the famous fireworks. They are organised all over the country, in big cities, small villages, and even sometimes private fireworks. They can be organised either on the 13th July or on the 14th, depending on the nearby cities schedules.
The one in Paris is usually done near the Eiffel Tower, from the Trocadéro, the Iéna bridge and the Eiffel Tower itself. The fireworks can gather about 500,000 to 1 million spectators!!!
The firemen’s public dance
The French National Day is also a ball and not any ball! A firemen’s public dance! The best part of the 14th of July in France if you ask me!
These public dances started randomly after the military Parade in the 1930s in Paris. A fireman asked the authorisation to show to the public the inside of the fire station and the celebrations continued inside.
This popular event carried on with music, shows and dance and spread over the country.
The big cities open their fire stations to the public and organise public dances. If you also have the chance to go to a village’s dance, don’t miss it, they are the best!!! They are a lower-key event, but so welcoming and fun!
Start of the main summer holiday season
From the 14th of July, the bank holiday weekend starts the main summer holiday period until the 15th August bank holiday weekend in France. Big French cities become empty as urban people are reaching the French countryside or their favourite vacation spot.
The school holidays usually start about 2 weeks before the French National day until the first days of September but a big majority of French people take out 2 to 3 weeks vacation between the 14th July and the 15th August.
The French National Day is now fireworks celebrations, the storming of the Bastille, a Military Parade in Paris, but also a firemen’s ball! This bank holiday weekend is the start of the French summer holiday season. French people escape the city for a bank holiday country break or the start of the annual summer vacation!
What will it be for you? A French fire station party? A long weekend in the French countryside? Parisian parade participation or the start of your summer vacation?
Hi there! I popped over from Lily’s blog, Imperfect Idealist after I saw you had started your own blog recently and I remember being new and wanting visitors!
This was a fascinating post- I really enjoyed reading about how Bastille Day is celebrated- I love the Fireman’s dance idea – so cool! Not heard of that at all! How did you celebrate it?
Nice to see that you heard about my blog after the comments I left on Lily’s blog!
Well, there was no Fireman’s dance this year…
For me, it was the sea and holiday option this year! Very nice too!
If you are in France for Bastille Day in the coming years, I definitely recommend going to a fireman’s dance or a village ball! I have never been disappointed and it is a great cultural experience for foreigners!
Very interestng and true, nowadays in France, 14th July means the kick off of the high peak summer season! 😉
Hi Aurelie, Thank you for your comment!
Yes, for many French people the 14th July is mainly a bank holiday weekend and the kick-off of the summer season! I hope you had a nice one!
Hello Guiga and thank you for this article. Now something that not everybody knows. I am from Liège in Belgium and Liège is less than 400 kms apart from Paris. When the revolution started in 1789 in Paris, the Belgians followed suit, in particular the “Liègeois” and they destroyed the Saint Lambert Cathedral in the main square of Liège because it was the symbol of the oppression of the Bishops. They were in charge of the county at the time and this was the end of the of the Principality of Liège as we knew it. So the French strongly influenced their neighbours in starting a revolution too. 😊
Very interesting! I had no idea! There are so many ‘collateral effects’ of major historical events that we are not even aware of or don’t take into account… Thanks for taking the time to share this information!