The French celebrate Le Quatorze Juillet (Bastille Day) to commemorate the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris on July 14, 1789.
A Tribute to French History
On July 14, 1789, the French rose against the monarchy to demand liberty and equality for all people. The event ultimately sparked the French Revolution and played a vital role in shaping modern France. “Le Quatorze Juillet” or “La Fête Nationale” has since become a national holiday— a time to celebrate the cultural heritage, unity, and values of the French Republic.
Joining the Festivities
As an American expat in France, I see how similarly we honor “freedom day” in our respective countries. Colorful decorations, lively parades, and joyful gatherings fill the streets. Fireworks light up the skies at night. It’s a day of national pride.
This year I’m spending the holiday in Uzès recovering from foot surgery. While my condition isn’t perfect for partying, I can reflect on where these feet have taken me and the memories of Le Quatorze Juillet.
The Magic of Le Quatorze Juillet
The first Fête Nationale I celebrated as an expat in France started early and lasted until late at night. I set out with my camera to capture how the French celebrate.
As my circle of friends expanded through the years, so did the celebrations. Like July 4th in the United States, food is always the centerpiece.
A Fireworks Spectacular
One of the highlights of spending Le Quatorze Juillet in France was joining in the celebration in Carcassonne. The fireworks display in the medieval city is considered one of the most spectacular in France. While objectively ranking fireworks displays may be challenging, Carcassonne stands out because of its surreal setting. Imagine lights and booming sounds crashing through the night skies — all with an ancient fortress as the backdrop. What a thrilling atmosphere it created.
Embracing Family and Unity
Bastille Day on the Côte d’Azur
Last year my North Carolina cousins invited me to visit Saint Tropez. They spent the holiday with a French family they’d known for years. Little did I know that it would be a total immersion in the French language and culture. A beautiful experience!
Simple Truths about Le Quatorze Juillet (La Fête Nationale)
If you, like me, refer to Le Fête Nationale as “Bastille Day,” here are other facts you might want to know about the French holiday.
The Correct Name
The French don’t call July 14 “Bastille Day.” It is known as “Le Quatorze Juillet” or “Le 14 Juillet.” The formal name is La Fête Nationale (The National Celebration)
The storming of the Bastille was not all about freeing prisoners. Rebels freed a few criminals and one aristocrat and targeted the Bastille as a symbol of the oppressive monarchy and its weapons arsenal.
The French Revolution was not the beginning of an independent republic. After the revolution, France experienced political turmoil, including the Reign of Terror and Napoleon’s rule. The Third Republic in 1870 brought national elections and political parties. The current French Republic, the Fifth Republic, was founded by Charles de Gaulle in 1958.
Why does it matter?
Truth dispels misconceptions, allowing us to engage with the French community and connect with the shared values of liberty, equality, and fraternity celebrated on this national holiday. For visitors and ex-pats, seeking accurate information demonstrates cultural sensitivity and respect for your host country.
“Vive la France!”