Bastille Day, one of the biggest events of the year in France. Occurring annually on 14 July, Bastille Day - to give its more common French names: la Fete Nationale (National Celebration) or le quatorze juillet (the 14 July) – follows a tradition started in 1790 called Fete de la Federation. This Fete marked the one year anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789, which triggered the French Revolution.
The capture of the prison, which was regarded as the embodiment of King Louis XVI’s absolute power, signified that this power was weakened. It also symbolised liberty and a fight against oppression. It also bore the birth of a new republic nation and a new government. Bastille Day was made a public holiday in 1880 and, ever since, has been celebrated in all manner of ways across the entire country.
Typically, the day begins when the President opens a parade in Paris comprising military personnel. Thousands of people come to watch this and the fly past of military aircraft. The president would traditionally give an address to members of the press regarding current events and future projects. Whether new president Francois Hollande will do so remains to be seen.
Many towns and villages hold their own parades, closing off roads so that residents can march through the streets. It’s likely you’ll see lots of bunting in the red, white and blue of France’s tricolour flag, possibly also lots of people with similarly painted faces.
In the Dordogne you might see posters up advertising communal meals, which welcome locals. People of all ages and all nationalities will sit squashed together along big tables, sharing food and traditions. Sarlat usually boasts a great fireworks show, as does Bergerac and small villages like Le Bugue might launch activities, such as dancing, from midday. These towns rely on tourists to keep their various attractions funded, so don’t feel like you are intruding.
Bastille Day is also celebrated with fancy balls and live music events. Most celebrations end with a fireworks display. Although it is a nationwide celebration, some people prefer to enjoy a private meal with friends, neighbours and family, rather than step outside.
As it is a national holiday, most shops, banks and eateries will be close, though in the more popular tourist areas, some cafes may stay open. Public transport might be subject to a special timetable, so if you’re reliant on buses or rains, check in advance.
Bastille Day is celebrated all over the world, in South Africa, Hungary, the UK, US and Belgium. In 2004, there was even a fly past by the Red Arrows. It’s a great event and if your trip to France coincides, then you are sure to have a memorable time. Just one thing, the French don’t refer to it as Bastille Day – always call it ‘la Fete Nationale’ or ‘le quatorze juillet’.