What is Bastille Day and how is it celebrated in France?

14/07/2020 | Rebecca Twose

Bastille Day is referred to as la Fête Nationale and is one of France’s most important national holidays. It is celebrated every year on the 14th of July.

The history of Bastille Day 

In 1789, the people of France were unhappy with King Louis XVI’s reign which had been dominated by high taxes and food shortages. The Bastille was a fortress in Paris used by the Monarchs of France as a prison (particularly for their political prisoners).

After protests had begun in Paris, an armed mob surrounded Bastille on the morning of the 14th of July. The mob stormed the prison and once this news spread amongst the people of France, the French Revolution was born. The Monarchy was eventually overthrown and Louis XVI and his wife Queen Marie Antoinette were executed.

Even today you will hear the words “liberty, equality and fraternity (brotherhood)” during the Bastille Day celebrations as these were the core beliefs of the people behind the revolution over 200 years ago.

Bastille Day

Bastille Day celebrations

These days in France, Bastille Day celebrations take place all over the country, with some events beginning the day before.

Fireworks

One of the most well-known and popular ways to mark the occasion is fireworks. Whilst there are fireworks shows all over the country on the 14th, one of the most spectacular displays is in Paris and can be seen at the Champ de Mars.

‘Firemen’s Ball’

Another tradition that takes place in Paris and its surrounding suburbs are ‘firemen’s balls’. Fire stations usually open their doors to the public at around 9 pm for an evening of music and dancing. Whilst there may not be an admission fee for these events, there may be a barrel for donations that go towards improving the station and the staff’s working conditions.

Champs Elysées military parade

The Bastille Day military parade down the Champs Elysées boulevard in Paris has taken place on the morning of nearly every July 14th since 1880. At 10am at the Arc de Triomphe, drums and trumpets will announce the arrival of President Emmanuel Macron who will then watch as troops parade down the Champs Elysées. Alongside the parade, there is also usually an aerial show where planes and helicopters also put on on their own spectacle in the sky. The procession moves from the Arc de Triomphe to Place de la Concorde.

Bastille Day

We hope that you have a fantastic Bastille Day if you’re celebrating in France or somewhere else around the world!

If you’d like to know more about the French language and culture, please read our previous blog ’10 facts about the French language’.