Useful tips & information,  Culture

Are the French really always on holidays?

Do you like the French holiday culture?

Is it really something specific to France? Before the implementation of the first 12 days paid annual leave (two weeks) in France in 1936, the French were relaxing only on Sundays and National holidays.

France actually is not a precursor in terms of the right to paid vacation. Other countries such as Germany, Poland, Norway or even Brazil got them before!

Let’s find out more about the French national holidays.

French public holidays

The French National holidays’ rules

The French law

In France, 11 public holidays are given for by law¹.

Non-working public holidays ¹ are set out in a company or institution agreement or, failing that, a collective bargaining agreement. In the absence of an agreement, it is the employer who specifies non-working public holidays.

An employee can work on French National holidays. In practice, most French bank holidays are non-working days for the majority of workers.

The exception is Whit Monday since the 2006 law creating the so-called “day of solidarity” (towards the elderly). Companies can choose to have their employees work on that day and the salary amount will be given by the employer to the government to theoretically finance projects towards the elderly.

Only 1 May is a compulsory non-working day for all employees (except specific establishments stated by public policy).

If the French national holidays fall on a weekend, it cannot be moved to another day.

The specificity of Alsace – Moselle

The three French departments, Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin (forming Alsace) and Moselle, have two extra public holidays compared to the rest of the country.

December 26 and Good Friday are bank holidays in these 3 departments only as a historical heritage.

From 1870 to 1918, Alsace and Moselle were part of Germany where these 2 days were non-working days.

When the three departments reintegrated the French Republic at the end of WWI, they negotiated to keep these specific benefits ².

The French extra-long weekends

French people have two interesting expressions that illustrate a very common practice in companies in France. When a French National holiday falls on a weekday other than a Monday or a Friday, the act of taking the in-between days-off are called:

  • Faire le pont (literally translated “Make the bridge”) when the bank holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday and one day-off is taken to have a 4-day weekend.
  • Faire le viaduc (literally translated “Make the viaduct”) when two bank holidays fall in the same week and two days-off are taken to have a full week of vacation. It can sometimes happen in May.
14th of July in France
Photo credit: Nick Page

List of the 2021 French public holidays

Below the 11 National public holidays in France in 2021:

2021 French National HolidaysDate (Year 2021)
New Year (Le Jour de l’An)Friday the 1st of January
Easter Monday (Lundi de Pâques)Monday the 5th of April
Labour Day (La Fête du Travail)Saturday the 1st of May
End of the Second World War (Victoire 1945)Saturday the 8th of May
AscensionThursday the 13th of May
Whit Monday (Lundi de Pentecôte)Monday the 24th of May
Bastille Day (La Fête Nationale)Wednesday the 14th of July
Assumption (L’Assomption)Sunday the 15th of August
All Saints (La Toussaint)Monday the 1st of November
End of the First World War (L’Armistice 1918)Thursday the 11th of November
Christmas Day (Noël)Saturday the 25th of December
EU national public holidays
Photo credit: Jason Leung

French bank holidays compared to the other EU countries

France is internationally famous to have many holidays throughout the year. But how does France compare with the rest of Europe on the National bank holidays?

With its 11 non-working legal bank holidays (but in practice sometimes 10 or less when they fall on weekends), it is below the 12.2-day average, according to the European Commission data ³.

CountryMinimum paid annual leavePublic holidaysTotal non-working days/yearInteresting facts
Netherlands20929Some companies may give Saint Nicholas (celebrated on December 5 in The Netherlands) and some companies may close for a few days around Carnival in the Southern part of the country
Denmark25934A few unofficial holidays in Denmark, such as Constitution Day (5 June), Christmas Eve (24 December) and New Year’s Day (31 December). Your workplace and any applicable labour agreements decide whether you are off on these days.
Hungary201131Employees are entitled to longer supplementary leave in the year in which they reach a specific age.
Germany241135Several extra-regional bank holidays in some Landers
Czech Republic201333 
Portugal221335Besides the statutory public holidays, Carnival Tuesday (movable holiday in February/March) and the local municipal holiday may be observed as public holidays
Bulgaria201434Excluding the Easter holidays, when the public holiday falls on a Saturday and/or a Sunday, the first or the first two business days after them are non-working days
Spain301444If the bank holiday falls on a Sunday, the day off is moved to the following Monday.
Slovakia201535Minimum of five weeks (25 days) of annual leave for employees who are at least 33 years old by the end of the current calendar year or who have a child in their permanent care.
EU AVERAGE21,412,233,6 
Source: European Commission – EURES

To Conclude

As a French person, I would say that vacations are important to French people as it is the case for most European countries. I admit that there is a “certain je ne sais quoi” about Southern European culture with a more laid-back Latin origin.

Also, the French Art-de-Vivre is only possible when a good balance between work-life and personal life exists.

Follow Expat in France on Instagram for more interesting content!

Guiga from Expat in France


[1] Article L3133-1 of the French Labour code

[2] Article L3134-1 of the French Labour code

[3] European Commission data

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