Guide to Bastille Day in France and Across the World

by Jules on July 5, 2013

The 14th of July marks the annual celebration of La Fête Nationale, or Bastille Day, in the heart of France’s capital, Paris. Often likened to Independence Day or Canada Day in North America, Bastille Day commemorates France’s political transition from a monarchy towards the modern republic.

History of Bastille Day

On the same date in 1789, a mob of mistreated and outraged Parisian peasants stormed the Bastille fortress on a quest for ammunition to use against the French monarchy. As well as a house for weapons, the Bastille also served as a prison for influential people deemed a threat to the king. For the peasants, the Bastille was a symbol of the aristocracy’s tyrannical abuse of power and over throwing it is now cited as the beginning of the French Revolution even though it took many years and subsequent monarchies for the French people to truly earn their freedom.

Today, Bastille Day is celebrated in Paris with parades, parties, music, and fireworks. Every year in the morning, a full military parade travels along the Champs Elysées beginning at L’arc de Triomphe and finishing at the Place de la Concorde, one of Paris’ largest squares and the site at which many of the aristocracy were beheaded by the guillotine during the revolution. It begins with a flypast by France’s air force, followed by an honour guard, troops, mounted troops, and a motorcade.

Other events include balls, held in the evenings at Paris’ many fire houses and free admission into the Louvre and l’Opéra de Paris allowing citizens and visitors alike the perfect opportunity to learn about and celebrate what the French love the most: France. The festivities boast their grand finale in the evening with an impressive fireworks display at la Champs de Mars, home of the Eiffel Tower.

Celebrate Bastille Day across the World

France isn’t the only country that celebrates Bastille Day. Across the globe, cities who have a proud history with the French people or places with a concentrated French population also remember the 14th of July.

Generally, these celebrations center around food, music, French cheese, wine, live entertainment and, naturally, fireworks. Bastille Day festivals can be found across the United States, in New Zealand, Belgium, Hungary, French Guinea, Canada, and the Virgin Islands.

In London a Garden Party at Battersea Park hosts a massive celebration complete with food, wine, live cabaret, and family entertainment. In New Orleans, outside of the normal staples of any independence celebration, revellers participate in a wreath laying ceremony at the city’s statue of Joan of Arc as well as a French poodle competition. Contests of dancing, singing, canoeing, banana carrying, spearing, and coconut opening, fills the days of Bastille celebration in French Polynesia. Certainly not least, Franschhoek in South Africa boasts gourmet cuisine coupled with wine tasting, boules (French lawn bowling) tournaments, live music, street fairs, and barrel-rolling contests.

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