Why Do The French Celebrate Bastille Day?
The French never celebrate Bastille Day! They do celebrate on 14 July each year, and usually call the day Le Quatorze Juillet (the fourteenth of July), or if they’re writing in down, La Fete Nationale (The National Celebration). The English, and therefore the other English speaking countries call it Bastille Day as it falls on the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille prison in Paris during the French Revolution. The first anniversary happened in 1790, so the celebration is just a few years younger than American Independence Day festivities.
The Bastille was stormed by the people of Paris, who wanted to arm themselves in case of a military crackdown, and to free the political prisoners they believed were held in the Bastille prison (the Marquis de Sade had been there a few days earlier and had reportedly shouted out of the windows that people were being killed in the jail). In reality there were only seven prisoners being held, and in an attempt to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, the prison governor opened the gates, but in the mayhem 108 people died.
It’s a bit grim to celebrate such a massacre, but the date was favoured over 26 August, the date when the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was made (inspired by Thomas Paine), when France made 14 July its national holiday in 1880. It’s fun to celebrate all things French, and you can adapt your red, white and blue party decorations for an extra day.
Have fun with berets. This multi-colored multi-pack is an affordable way to give everyone some French va-va-voom without breaking the bank.
What To Do On Bastille Day
Traditionally French people enjoy a parade on the morning of Bastille Day, then settle down to enjoy watching the Tour de France in the afternoon, before partying into the evening (although often the party will happen the night before Bastille Day, giving people a day to clear their heads before going back to work).
The Tour de France stage is regularly chosen with the hope that the route will favor a French rider, and if a Frenchman wins on Bastille Day then the whole country goes wild. One of the few things in life besides death and taxes that people can truly count on, is that plucky Thomas Voeckler, the French housewives favorite, will attempt a breakaway stage win on July 14 each year.
Dressing up in red white and blue, carrying a red white and blue stuffed chicken, “le coq gaulois”, and waving the flag are all perfectly acceptable on the day.
This year there’s a good chance that the Duchess of Cambridge will give birth on Bastille Day, and whilst the child won’t grow up to be King or Queen of France, there’s no reason not to re-purpose all that red white and blue and combine a British Royal Baby Party with your Bastille celebrations.
French Halloween Costumes
There’s no escaping the fact than when people think of French dress-up outfits for women, this is what they have in mind.
French Bastille Day Party Food Ideas
The 14 July celebrations occur on the anniversary of a great feast held on 14 July 1790. By that time the feudal system had gone and the French were celebrating the perceived success of their Revolution. Rather than celebrating the Storming of the Bastille, the French are celebrating their celebrations. That’s far more fun.
Being a French celebration you can go crazy and cook all the finest French food you can think of, but it’s July and you may prefer to picnic, eat salads, or to cook out.
I’ve celebrated Bastille Day in Spain, England, Austria and Chicago. It’s easy to find people to celebrate with. In Spain we drank wine and ate tapas, in England we had a picnic and drank French wine. In Austria we sat in the town square drinking beer and eating ice cream, and in Chicago we barbecued frogs legs along with veggie burgers, drinking Old Style and confusing the neighbors, who were happy to share the beer, but not the legs or the garlic snails someone had brought a can of.
The best French cookbooks offer plenty of choices for you to cook indoors and eat outside, but if you don’t want worry about trying new recipes, get creative.
If the staff restaurant in Congress can rename French Fries as Freedom fries, then there’s no good reason why you can’t rebrand a hot dog by sticking a tricolor flag in it and calling it a Chien-Chaud. Pulp Fiction fans already have all the French recipes they need – “You know what they call a Quarter Pounder in Paris? They call it a Royale with Cheese”.
The French do have a stirring National Anthem, it even makes its way into Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love”. It’s a great tune to sing along to, and stirs up the blood of any Frenchman. Whenever I’ve celebrated Bastille Day with French people we’ve ended up singing La Marseillaise loudly, and in my case, with plenty of pom-te-pomming where I don’t know the words. You can’t help but join in.
The classic movie Casablanca features bar patrons drowning out the occupying Germans’ patriotic singing with an impromptu version La Marseillaise, a real feel good patriotic moment. Watch the rest of the film to find long that good feeling lasted, but I defy anyone not to get goosebumps or a tiny tear welling up during the film.
Get In The French Revolution Mood
There’s no need to learn French to enjoy some French themed cinema. You don’t even have to be the sort of person who enjoys subtitles.
Casablanca is set outside France, in North Africa, but is a wonderful story of French Resistance during World War Two. Bogart’s character may not care much for politics, but he knows how to make a girl swoon.
The Victor Hugo novel, Les Miserables, is considered to be one of the finest ever written, exploring the history and morality of France. The musical, mocked at “the Glums” when first announced has been a mega-success, and this film version was a box office smash.
The soundtrack to Les Mis is a global hit. It’s sentimental, but it’s hugely popular, and the film cast do a sterling job in the brand new recording.