Seasonal Holidays and Celebrations: French Celebrations

Figure 1.--I believe 1ér avril is April's fools in France. Why it is called "Poisson d'avril" and what fish have to do with it I am not sure. Nor do I know how it is celebrated in France. This card was mailed in 1913. Image courtesy if the MD collection.

The French celebrate 11 national (jours feriés) holidays each year. France introduced the civic calendar (1582). The standard holidays including New Year, Valentine Day, Easter, Armistice Day, and Christmas are all important in France. Over time several new holidays have been introduced. Bastille Day was incorporated at the onset of the French Revolution, a major inflection point in French history (1789). Armistice Day was added after World War I and thge resulting huge loss of life (1918). Labor Day was added as socialists grew increasingly binfluential (193). Victory Day was added after World War II (1945). May is especially important with a holiday nearly every week. The best known French holiday is of course Bastille Day on July 14 honoring the beginning of the French Revolution. The two most important celebrations for French children are surely Easter and Christmas which is the case in much of Europe. We do not yet know a great deal about how these holiday are celebrated with the exceotion of Easter abd Christmas, but are gradually ascquiring more information.

Nouvel An/Jour des Étrennes -- New year (Januaru 1)

1ér janvier. New Year is one of the oldest and most universally celebrated holiday around the world--although the fate of celebration varied. The same is true of France. After the Christmas celebrations this was another opportunity to celebrate. The Romans celebrated the New Years, but an enprecise calendar caused the celebration to slip. Jukius Ceasar himseld set the date at January 1 in what came to be called the Julian calendar. The Church susequently frowed on celebrating pagan festivals. It was, however, a difficult celebration to sasmp out. And imperfections in the Julian calendar caused the date to slip over time. Thus New Years was being celecrated between the end of March and the beginning of April, essentially the arrival of Spring. This finally changed in 1582. The reformed or Gregorian calendar was adopted in France. And the French began celebrating NewYears on January 1. Families and friends like to dine together once again at Le Réveillon or Fête de Saint-Sylvestre. At midnight, people go out into the street to share New Years greetiungs with friends ad neighbors. There are many regional variations. In the Midi Pyrenees, the people attend evening mass and then join a procession to the vineyards and pick grapes at midnight. Presumably this is symbolic as there woud be no grapoes in January. Paris like other capitals celebrate a more bousterous Christmas. There is a 2-day festival. Thousands of performers from all over the world help to celebrate New Years in Paris. RheEifel Tower has become a centerpirce. Special lights were added in 2009. There is parade through Chantilly on the 31st December and then on the 1st January the gala moves to the Trocadéro, under the Eiffel Tower. New Years Day is a day for exchanging gifts and festive cards. Some traditionalists insist on giving presents and cards on New Years rather than Christmas.

St. Valentin (February 14)

14 février

Poisson d'avril -- Apil Fools (April 1)

1ér avril. This is April's fools in France (figure 1). It is called "Poisson d'avril". Fake humerous gifts or cards depicting fish are given on April 1st. Practical jokes became popular toi remind people that it is not the true New Year anymore. as it was during the medieval period.

Pâques ( Easter )

Mars ou avril. n Monday all is closed. Les cloches de Päques apportent des oeufs aux enfants ( the bells which are coming from Roma ; bring eggs for the children ). Easter is called Pâques in France. It is one of the most impoprtant holiday celebrations for French children. As in America and many other European countries, the religious message of Easter is increasingly being drowned out by te commercialization of the holiday. The children as in many other country receive colorfully decorated eggs. The French begin their Easter season several weeks before Easter actually begins. Shop windows are gayly decorated in a festive collection of white and dark chocolate rabbits, chickens, bells and fish. Much of this occurs in other countries, but bells and fish are an important part of the French Easter tradition.

Fête du travail -- Labour day (May 1)

1ér mai

Victoire -- VE Day (May 8)

8 mai. This holiday celebrates the Allied victory over the NAZIs in World War II. The Germans surendered to the Allies on May 8, 1945.

Fête des Mères -- Mothers' Day (May 25)

25 mai.

Fête des Pères -- Fathers's Day (June 15)

15 juin.

Jeudi de l'Ascension ( Ascension day )

Pentecôte ( Penstecost )


Fête Nationale -- Bastille Day (July 14)

Le Quatorze Juilletis what the French call thaeir national day or Fête Nationale. Bastille Day is popular name in English-speaking countries, but is not used in France. It is similar to independence day in many countries, but that term is not appropraite as France was not ruled by a foreign country. Rather is seen as the point in history that the French people seized control of their country from the monarchy. It is celevrated on July 14. This was the day that the people of Paris stormed the Bastille. This was a medieval fort that became the main Parisian jail. It loomed over Paris. It was decrepit, but it was where political prisoners were still imprisoned. To the people of Paris, the Bastille was notorious as the place where the king imprisoned people who opposed his absolute rule without due process of law. It was the first use of force against the monarchy and thus seen at the launching of the French Revolution. It was the very point that the Revolution turned violent. The enraged Parisian mobs after storming the Bastille tore the garrison to pieces. A year kater the first celebration was held. That first clebration was called the Fête de la Fédération which honored the achievemednt of the unity of the liberated French people. July 14, 1790. Celebrations are organized throughout France. The oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe is staged in Paris, down the Champs-Élysées. It is presuided over by the President of the Republic with other French officials and foreign dignitaries. There are other parades as well as concerts. Picnics are not as common as in Amweica, bu many families treat themselves toi a restaurant outing. Paris, there is a large open-air dance in Place de la Bastille, where the prison stood. There are aksi celbratory dances other cities as well. Another traditioin is opoen day at firehouses. At night fire works displays are held all over the coiountry.



Toussaint -- All Saints' Day (November 1)

1ér novembre.

Armistice Day (November 11)

11 november. Armistace day honors those who served in World War I. November 11, 1918 is the day the Germans agreed to an Armistace ending World War I. The Allies refused to deal with the Kaiser or the German military. An Armistace was only accepted once the Kaiser abdigated and fled to the Netherlands and a civilian provisional government was formed. France's loss in the number of men killed and wouunded was enormous.

Noël -- Christmas (December 25)

25 décembre. Christmas of course is the most important holiday clebration for children. The French Christmas in the 21st century is an interesting mix of tradition and modern innovations. French children traditionally with great hope and anticipation put their shoes by the hearth. Nearly every French home at Christmastime displays a Nativity scene or creche, which serves as the focus for the Christmas celebration. Although the use of the Yule log has faded, the French make a traditional Yule log-shaped cake called the buche de Nol, which means "Christmas Log." The cake, among other food in great abundance is served at the grand feast of the season, which is called le rveillon. French children traditionally received gifts from Père Noel who travels with his stern disciplinarian companion Père Fouettard, but today Père Fouettard has almost disappeared.


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Created: December 3, 2002
Last updated: 8:16 AM 6/15/2019