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
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.
Le Jour des Rois (The Day of the Kings) is celebrated on January
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.
||French National Holidays
||New Year's Day (Jour de l'an) **Will be observed
on the previous Friday
||Easter Monday (lundi de Pâques)
||Labor Day (Fête du premier mai/fête du Travail)
||Ascension Day (l'Ascencion)
||WWII Veterans' Day (Fête de la Victoire 1945; Fête du huitième mai)
||French National Day/Bastille Day (Fête nationale)
||Assumption Day (Assomption)
||All Saints' Day (la Toussaint)
||Veterans' Day WWI/Armistice Day (Jour d'armistice)
Regional and other
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
(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
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.
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
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.
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.
St. Nicholas Day: St. Nicholas brings gifts to children who have been good
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.
Café--coffee with conversation, cards or dominoes
Tennis: The French Open is held in Roland Garros Stadium, Paris, in
late May/early June.
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
iron balls which are thrown
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