The French love their holidays, so much so that a certain amount of French holidays is a legal requirement for all French citizens! Whether commemorating historical events or celebrating religious traditions, public holidays provide an opportunity for locals and visitors alike to experience the unique spirit of the nation.
This time, we will be pouring ourselves a glass of something cold and bubbly and settling back to enjoy the fascinating world of French public holidays, exploring their origins, traditions, and the lively festivities that accompany them. So, grab your beret and tricolore and join us on this delightful journey through the calendar of holidays in La Belle France.
The 14th of July marks Bastille Day, one of the most important French bank holidays, commemorating the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789 and the start of the French Revolution. This pivotal moment in French history symbolizes the ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
The national holiday celebrations kick off with military parades, particularly the grand parade along the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Spectators marvel at the precision of the French armed forces, while fighter jets create mesmerizing trails of smoke in the sky. In the evening, cities across the country come alive with magnificent firework displays, lighting up the night sky with bursts of vibrant colors.
Easter Monday, known as “Lundi de Pâques” in French, is a moveable public holiday that falls on the Monday following Easter Sunday. This religious holiday, rooted in Christian traditions, is observed with various customs and festivities throughout France.
One of the most popular traditions is the Easter egg hunt, where children excitedly search for hidden eggs in gardens or parks. As on most French holidays, families gather together for a delicious meal, featuring traditional dishes such as roast lamb and the delectable Easter cake known as “gâteau de Pâques.” Many towns and villages also organize processions, religious ceremonies, and fairs, creating a festive atmosphere for all to enjoy.
May 1st is celebrated as May Day or Labor Day in France. International Workers’ Day in France has its roots in the struggle for workers’ rights and the fight for an eight-hour workday. The day is marked by demonstrations and rallies organized by labor unions across the country, highlighting the importance of fair working conditions.
Symbolically, May Day also celebrates the midpoint between the spring equinox and summer solstice and the people offer lilies of the valley, a delicate flower associated with good luck and happiness, to loved ones and acquaintances. Streets and parks are adorned with colorful displays of these fragrant blooms, creating a picturesque scene.
The French also take advantage of the long weekend to spend time with family and friends, enjoying picnics, outdoor activities, and the arrival of spring. It is then back to work for a bit before Victory Day rolls around on May 8th as a celebration of the end of World War II. The month of May also celebrates Ascension Day and Whit Monday, and then it’s just another month before the school holidays, when the kids get to enjoy a whole two months of summer holidays!
All Saints’ Day
On November 1st the Autumn holidays are upon us and France observes All Saints’ Day, known as “La Toussaint.” This Christian holiday is dedicated to honoring and remembering departed loved ones. Cemeteries are adorned with flowers, particularly chrysanthemums, which are associated with mourning and remembrance in French culture. Families gather at gravesites to clean and decorate them, placing bouquets and lighting candles.
This solemn occasion provides an opportunity for reflection and connection with one’s heritage. While the French holiday is a day of remembrance, it is also a time for families to come together, share stories, and cherish the memories of those who have passed away. Armistice Day on November 11th is a time when the French celebrate the end of World War I and remember those who were lost.
Christmas in France is a magical time filled with age-old traditions, festive decorations, and culinary delights. The holiday season officially begins on December 6th with Saint Nicholas Day, where children receive small gifts in their shoes. On Christmas Eve, families come together for a sumptuous feast known as “Réveillon.” Traditional dishes such as roasted goose, oysters, and the famous Yule log cake called “bûche de Noël” grace the tables. Midnight Mass is attended by many, with churches adorned in candlelight and resonating with carols, and then it’s CHRISTMAS!
Some Useful French Christmas Greetings
French Holidays And The Law
Of the 11 official public holidays in France, it is only for Fête du Travail (May Day) that work must stop for the day with workers being paid (except where workers can’t cease work without causing an issue). The other holidays don’t have to disturb the working week; that’s a decision for the employer and employees. Oh, and it is also a legal requirement for the French to take at least five weeks of paid holidays each year!
Whether you find yourself marveling at military parades, searching for hidden Easter eggs, or savoring the delights of a French Christmas, important French holidays provide an opportunity to immerse yourself in the vibrant spirit of this amazing country. So, next time you plan a visit, consider timing it to coincide with one of these festivities and experience the joie de vivre (joy of living) firsthand.