Holidays and festivals are an integral part of any culture. They are widely celebrated for keeping traditions alive, honoring the country’s history, and respecting the sacrifices of people.
France enjoys 11 official public holidays wherein each day reveals a piece of the country’s identity. There are five civil holidays and six religious holidays accompanied by other special celebrations.
Here is a list of all the major holidays and celebrations in France that are worth marking on your calendar and further hold the opportunity to understand the intercultural practices.
French holidays based on the civil calendar
According to the civil calendar, there are five important days. Some of these holidays are celebrated to remember and honor people in essential roles. It is important to recognize the meaning behind these occasions to celebrate them with respect and gratitude.
1. Bastille Day (Fête Nationale) – 14th July
The Bastille Day marks the storming of Bastille by a revolutionary mob and the beginning of democracy in France. In French, it is called la Fête nationale or le 14 juillet.
On this day, thousands of Parisians gathered together to celebrate the unity of the new French Nation and the national reconciliation of its people.
The day became an official holiday in 1880 and has always been celebrated with shows of military might, parades, and fireworks. People watch the spectacle that takes place every year with a different theme.
2. Victory in Europe Day (Jour de Victoire en Europe) – 8th May
Victory in Europe Day or VE Day celebrates the end of a six-year war that had cost the lives of millions. It commemorates the victory of the allies over Germany.
On 8th May 1945, millions of Germans surrendered to Allied forces. Celebrations erupted with the news of Germany’s surrender as it restored the freedom of many people.
In France, people respect and commemorate this public holiday by bringing flowers or wreaths to the War Memorial.
3. Armistice Day (Jour d’Armistice) – 11th November
Armistice Day is celebrated to honor the veterans who lost their lives in the First World War. The Armistice was signed between the Allied forces and Germany at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
In observance of this day, there are parades throughout France. Every town and village in France has a war memorial listing the men from the local area who died for their country.
The bleuet or the cornflower is chosen as a symbol of remembrance. Its blue color represents the blue uniforms of many soldiers during the First World War.
4. May Day (la Fête du Travail) – 1st May
May Day is a public holiday to celebrate workers’ rights. On this day, workers protested to regulate the length of the working day. Following the protest, the government took several social measures and signed an eight-hour day law to meet the social demands.
According to this law, workers should not be made to work for more than 8 hours a day. This day is associated with the lilies of the valleys in France and is also called la Fête du Muguet in French. It has been a tradition to offer these flowers to work colleagues and friends as a sign of luck.
5. New year ( Jour de l’An) – 1st January
This day needs no introduction as it is celebrated worldwide. Many people in France begin their New year celebrations at midnight with their friends or family members. Traditionally, the festive spirit kicks off with a glass of champagne, delicious food, and firework displays.
The following day is accompanied by exchanging gifts or cards and a list of new resolutions for the new year. You can also join thousands of people to witness the musical parade at the Champs-Élysées.
French holidays based on religion
There are six public holidays based on religious beliefs. These holidays serve as a celebration of faith while embracing the culture and values.
1. Christmas ( Noël) – 25th December
The celebration of Christmas has been inherited from Christianity. It celebrates the birth of Jesus and is filled with ever-changing traditions that date back to ancient times. In France, cities and towns are adorned with decorations that are an eye-catcher to visitors.
This festive season is diversely celebrated and consists of many favorite customs such as exchanging gifts, Christmas trees, Christmas carols, advent calendars, bûche, Père Noël, and the great Christmas Eve dinner.
2. All Saints’ Day (La Toussaint) – 1st November
All Saints’ Day is a Catholic tradition of honoring the dead. People spend the day visiting the graves of their families, attending church services, and dining together.
Families try to uphold the tradition of keeping the day peaceful by avoiding fighting. The graves are cleaned and replaced with pots of Chrysanthemum as it symbolizes immortality in France.
3. Assumption Day (Assomption) – 15th August
Assumption Day reflects the popular belief among Catholics that celebrates the rising of Mary into heaven. Every year, Paris hosts a procession on a boat in the Seine to carry the silver statue of Mary.
The belief has no biblical basis and is widely celebrated to keep the old traditions alive. This day is also associated with the end of the summer holidays. It symbolizes the end of Summer and welcomes the approaching Autumn.
4. Ascension Day (Jeudi de l’Ascension)
Ascension Day is a religious holiday celebrated primarily by Catholics and Christians. It commemorates Jesus Christ’s ascension into heaven. The exact date of Ascension Day changes from year to year. However, it signifies the 40th day of Easter and is said to fall on a Thursday.
5. Easter (Pâques)
Easter is an important Christian religious festival in France celebrated on a Sunday. It signifies the resurrection of Christ and ends the 40 days of lent. The exact date depends on the seasons.
Easter traditions in France include chocolate, rabbits, eggs, bells, chicken, and lamb. The Monday after Easter (Lundi de Pâques) is a public holiday. It is customary in the south of France to go on a picnic for lunch with family and friends.
6. Whit Monday (Lundi de Pentecôte)
Whit Monday is another popular day to be remembered in the Christian calendar. It celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles at Pentecost. It is a movable holiday as the date changes according to the date of Easter.
In France, it is celebrated during the Rose season. Therefore, people throw roses from the vaults of churches. It is also a tradition to release birds and pigeons on this day.
Experience something unique
Learning about the beliefs and cultures of other people helps us to embrace cultural differences and expand our values. Take this opportunity to grow in understanding towards the language and people.
So, the next time you see a pot of Chrysanthemum or a procession in the Seine, I bet you will understand the significance of the day and the traditions associated with it while experiencing something unique.