July 14th is France’s National Day. While Canada calls July 1st Canada Day, we casually call our National Day… le 14 juillet*. It is commonly referred to as Bastille Day by anglophone but you will be hard-pressed to hear a French person say le jour de la Bastille. What the phrase refers to is the reason why that particular day became our National celebration day.
On July 14th, 1789, the common people of Paris (as opposed to the richer or the religious classes) stormed the Bastille, which was a famous prison. The goal was partly to free up the political prisoners supposedly held there (although there happened to be none on that day) but mostly to steal the weapons and gunpowder that the building housed. That event precipitated the subsequent events of the French Revolution, thereby marking the start of a new era, effectively ending the feudal system and slowly implementing a republic.
July 14th was voted the National Holiday as a law in 1880, 101 years after the event.
Fireworks are a common way to celebrate le 14 juillet. Most towns and cities typically offer their own show. The main attraction on a national level is the military parade (le défilé militaire) on the Champs Elysées. The oldest military parade in Europe, it is attended by thousands of spectators, broadcast on TV and often features guest dignitaries from other countries.
In 2017, President Donald Trump is attending the celebrations alongside French President Emmanuel Macron. Although Macron has been very critical of Trump, he still wants to keep amicable relationships between the two countries and recognize the US as military allies and contributors to France’s freedom.
Also in 2017, Nice and the whole south east of France have cancelled their fireworks displays in memory of the 86 people killed by a truck-driving terrorist last year. 86 laser beams will illuminate the night sky to honor the victims.
Le 14 (quatorze) juillet is of course a non-working day for most people. When it falls on a Thursday or Tuesday, the French like to do a bridge (faire le pont), where they take the extra bridge day off to extend the week-end.
So to all you francophiles, bon 14 juillet!
*Note that the months in French do not start with a capital letter, except when at the beginning of a sentence.