Happy Bastille Day!
It’s July and you know what that means: Bastille Day is nearly upon us!
Bastille Day is also known as the Fourteenth of July (le quatorze juillet) and the Fete Nationale and is a national holiday in France. It’s also my personal favourite!
Why does France celebrate Bastille Day?
A little history: the revolutionary holiday has been celebrated every year since July 14th, 1789. It commemorates the storming of the Bastille fortress. This was being used as a prison, in the early months of the French Revolution. The storming of the Bastille by the people of Paris was one of their first revolutionary victories against the Old Regime.
The following year, this insurrection by the people was widely celebrated. However, the date was not named a national holiday until much later, in 1880. This is when the leaders of the Third French Republic were searching for a way to celebrate the foundations of the regime (according to the French government’s website on the matter).
While the history of the holiday is fascinating, what’s even more interesting is how it is celebrated nowadays. As far as I can remember from my childhood in France, the 14th of July remains hugely celebrated. You’ll definitely want to be with the French as they celebrate another happy Bastille day!
While Bastille Day may actually have quite a dark history, it is considered a celebratory day in the French annals. So, what of the official celebrations? How does the French government celebrate, and can you take part?
One of the most iconic features of the official Bastille Day celebration is the grandiose military parade down the Champs-Elysees in Paris. I recently found out that it is actually the oldest military parade in the world! French Presidents have some sway in the details of the parade. Over the years, this has included inviting foreign contingents, heads of state and “heroes” to the parade.
In 2018, President Emmanuel Macron attended the parade riding in a military vehicle and led by a literal cavalry. Subtle! The year before, in 2017, he invited President Donald Trump to attend the festivities. An interesting choice, to say the least!
The parade is watched by hundreds of thousands of people every year in Paris. If you’re in the capital and can spare the time (which you can, because it’s a national holiday and no work will get done anyway) you should definitely try and attend. It’s an unforgettable sight! The air show itself is very memorable.
How can I celebrate the 14th of July in France?
But on to the interesting stuff! When talking about the 14th of July, ‘celebration’ is the keyword. After all, the French love a good celebration, especially when it falls on a day of national pride!
Moreover, Bastille Day celebrations are open to all: if you’re not from France, don’t feel like you’re intruding on something private. French people will always be more than happy to include anyone wishing to celebrate the 14th, so don’t miss out!
As a holiday, Bastille Day is full of celebrations. The evening is usually marked by spectacular fireworks shows. Buildings all over the country and the world will be lit up in the symbolic blue, white and red tricolours of the French flag.
I remember once being in Pondicherry, India, for the 14th of July. I was initially sad to be missing out on the Bastille Day celebrations at home, but I needn’t have been. Pondicherry has a strong French history and buildings all over the city were lit up with the colours!
The place to be
I strongly recommend you try to be in France at this time of year! Mougins is a great place to base yourself in if you’d like to see more intimate commemorations as the town marks the date and its historical significance. Also, Mougins being the beautiful medieval French town that it is, you’ll be amazed by the sheer show of national pride as the flags line every single street.
In the evenings (especially in Nice and Cannes), expect to see brilliant fireworks over the Mediterranean and what can only be described as spontaneous street parties. I can guarantee you that these will involve a lot of wine, a lot of dancing and, most importantly, a lot of singing!
Yep, it’s one of the many reasons I love them. The French are notorious street singers. It’s not hard to get a classic going at the best of times, but on Bastille Day you’ll be hearing a lot of traditional military songs, as well as French musical icons sang throughout the night (Edith Piaf karaoke, anyone?).
And of course, how could we forget the national anthem?
That’s right: it’s time to brush up on your Marseillaise lyrics! You will be needing them.
3.. 2.. 1.. Aux armes, citoyens…formez vos bataillons… MARCHONS!
Just a side note, but the lyrics to this song are incredible. If you’re not a French speaker, they’re definitely worth looking up!
Bastille Day in 2016
Of course, more recent events have lent a tragic note to Bastille Day. On the 14th of July in 2016, Nice and its population suffered a horrifying terrorist attack along the iconic Promenade des Anglais, resulting in the deaths of 86 people and over 400 others injured.
These shocking and tragic events forever changed the 14th of July, especially in the south, but also marked an incredible coming together of a people and country as a whole. A year on from the attacks, in 2017, people came out in force to commemorate their losses and stand up to the terror. As they have continued to do ever since.
This is a hallmark feature of the French character: national pride and belief in the nation’s core values (liberty, equality, fraternity). If you’re lucky enough to be in France during this holiday, you really will be seeing the best of the French character and culture.
Now, how best to celebrate, you ask?
How should I plan my night?
If you’re staying with us at Le Mas Candille in Mougins, I would recommend a beautiful dinner out on our terrace, where you’ll have prime viewing of any fireworks over the pre-Alpes. After dinner, our reception team can arrange to take you into Nice, Cannes, or Antibes, to see the night-time spectacles, such as the Pyrotechnic Art Festival, and to join in on the fun. If you’re looking for some good spots to start your night at, check out our blog post on some hidden gems of Riviera nightlife.
Bastille Day is a great day to get a feel for French history, culture and traditions, all in one! You really couldn’t pick a better day to get acquainted with France. Le Mas Candille is more than pleased to welcome you to the south on this holiday!
Remember: Bastille Day is only referred to as such by English speakers. If you want to wish someone a “Happy Bastille Day” in French, say “Bonne Fete Nationale”!
So get to practising your Marseillaise, you’ve only got a few days left to learn the lyrics!
From the top!
Allons enfants de la patrie…
Happy Bastille Day from us all at Le Mas Candille!