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Celebrating French National Holidays

The Holidays calendar shows each of the 11 public French national holidays (jours feriés) they will celebrate. It also shows the day of the week the French national holidays fall on since they will typically faire le pont (literally make the bridge) if it falls near the weekend and extend their holiday. The holiday calendar also includes some religious feasts which move (e.g., Easter dates), in addition to 5 weeks of vacation traditionally taken in July/August. There are often special events and displays, so it's a fun time to travel in France, but check in advance for closures or special hours so you can plan accordingly.  You will notice that many of the French national holidays are the same ones we celebrate. If you're not visiting France, unique holidays or special traditions can be a fun "excuse" to have a French themed celebration. For example:

  • Le Jour des Rois (The Day of the Kings) is celebrated on January 6. A special cake (galette des rois) is baked with a surprise inside--whoever finds the surprise is crowned king or queen for the evening. Celebrate with Champagne.
  • May Day (May1) finds everyone wearing lilies of the valley--if you make a wish while wearing them, it's sure to come true.
  • Fête nationale/Bastille Day (July 14) is the most French of all and over a million people visit Paris to join in the celebration.  It commemorates the storming of the Bastille (14th century castle turned prison) in 1789. Although the prison only held 7 people, symbolically it represented royal oppression, and it started the French Revolution. The Bastille is gone but place de la Bastille is dominated by the July Column (for the July Revolution) which is decorated with flags. Starting late at night on July 13, there are dances in many fire stations. Parades start the next morning with firework displays dancing in the streets following that night. 

Holiday Calendar (Legal)

Date French National Holidays
Jan 1 New Year's Day (Jour de l'an) **Will be observed on the previous Friday
Date Varies Easter Monday (lundi de Pâques)
May 1 Labor Day (Fête du premier mai/fête du Travail)
Varies Ascension Day (l'Ascencion)
May 8 WWII Veterans' Day (Fête de la Victoire 1945; Fête du huitième mai)
Jul 14 French National Day/Bastille Day (Fête nationale)
Aug 15 Assumption Day (Assomption)
Nov 1 All Saints' Day (la Toussaint)
Nov 11 Veterans' Day WWI/Armistice Day (Jour d'armistice)
Dec 25 Christmas (Noël)

Regional and other festivals

Spring

  • April Fools' Day (Poisson D'Avril or April Fish). Children play tricks on people, tell tales, and stick cut out fish on their backs.
  • The Gypsy Festival (May): Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in the Camargue (home of cowboys and wild horses) attracts gypsies from all over the world. The festival celebrates their patron saint's (Sarah) return to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. The legend is that Sarah from Egypt led Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe (mothers of 2 apostles forced to leave Palestine in a boat with no oars or sails) to France where they spread their religion. On the second day the gypsies take a statue of Sarah from the crypt to the sea for blessing. The festival continues with bullfights, horse shows, music and dancing.
  • St. Joan of Arc Day: saint who ended the Hundred Years' War 
  • St. Bernard of Montjoux: patron saint of mountain climbers who made the Alpine passes safe for travelers.

Summer

  • Sailor's Day: boats are decorated with paper flowers and blessed by the priest. Children parade to the church with handmade ships.
  • Procession of the Bottles: in Boulbon all the men walk through town with bottles of new wine, uncork their bottles at the same time and take a drink.
  • Corpus Christi: Christian's eat bread and wine in remembrance of Christ.
  • St. John's Day: bonfires. Barrels are lit and rolled down hill.
  • Burning of the Three Firs: in Thann 3 fir trees are burned to commemorate the founding of the town.
  • Tour de France: Teams of 10 cyclists race for 3 weeks circling the country.
  • Cornouaille Festival (3rd to 4th Sundays in July): In Quimper in Cornouaille in Brittany there are hundreds of shows, musicians, dancers, puppet shows and traditional food and games to preserve their Celtic heritage. On the first Sunday there is a parade with traditional dress. 

Fall

  • Day of the Flutes: musician's parade playing ancient instruments.
  • St. Crispin's Day: church service for the patron saint of shoes
  • La Quintane: 30 men carry a prison replica to church for blessing and then destroy it with mallets.
  • Grape Harvest Festivals (November): a celebration of the end of the grape harvest. Members of the wine societies dress in traditional robes to test the grapes and taste the new wine. In Burgundy Les Trois Glorieuses is a 3 day festival of wine tasting, folk dancing, and wine auction. 
  • St. Catherine's Day: dinner and parade with decorated hats for unmarried women over 25.

Winter

  • St. Nicholas Day: St. Nicholas brings gifts to children who have been good all year.
  • Christmas Eve: traditional supper after midnight mass.
  • Epiphany: cakes are baked with coins inside. Whoever gets the coin is king or queen for the day.
  • St. Bernadette of Lourdes
  • Saint Vincent day (January 22): patron saint of wine is celebrated in villages of the wine producing areas.
  • Carnaval: 12 days in February before Lent. Traditionally a time when eggs, fats and other foods forbidden during Lent were eaten. The largest Carnaval festivities and most elaborate costumes are in Nice, home of the Battle of Flowers, and center of the perfume industry. During Carnaval floats and costumes are made of flowers. After the contest to decide the most beautiful float, an actual "battle" with everyone throwing flowers (based in an ancient fertility rite) ensues.

Entertainment

  • Café--coffee with conversation, cards or dominoes
  • Football (soccer)
  • Films
  • Rugby
  • Golf
  • Skiing
  • Tennis: The French Open is held in Roland Garros Stadium, Paris, in late May/early June.
  • Swimming
  • Bicycle racing: Tour de France, the world's most prestigious, founded in 1903. Held for 3 weeks (broken into 21 timed daily stages) in late June and July. Approximately 200 of the top cyclists race a 4000-km route including flat sections as well as mountains which changes annually but always ends on the Champs-Élysées. 
  • Pétanque or boules--games played in village squares on a hard surface with iron balls which are thrown

 

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Last Modified: January 28, 2016

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