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Celebrating Bastille Day: The History and Significance of the Holiday

Bastille Day, known as “La Fête Nationale” or “Le 14 Julliet” in French, is celebrated in France every year on July 14. It commemorates the momentous 1789 event when the Bastille prison was stormed. Just as the French Revolution represented more than just the end of tyranny, Bastille Day is more than just a national holiday; it is a celebration of French culture and ideals that echoes across the Francophone world and beyond.


History of Bastille Day

The Bastille, originally built as a fortress, was turned into a prison by the monarchy of Louis XVI. It was there where he locked up his most outspoken critics and adversaries. On July 14, 1789, when the Bastille was stormed, it held only seven prisoners; however, this act of defiance was meant to send a message to the oppressive regime that the French Revolution had begun. The Revolution brought about the end of the monarchy and the establishment of the French Republic. Moreover, the storming of the Bastille continues to be a symbol of rebellion against tyranny and the fight for democratic principles.


Bastille Day in France

In France, the celebration of Bastille Day begins with the oldest and largest regular military parade in Europe, held on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. This parade is a symbol of France’s unity and a demonstration of military strength. Beyond the parade, there are parties and meals shared with family and friends throughout the country. At night fall, the Eiffel Tower becomes a focal point for a spectacular fireworks display!


Bastille Day in French-Speaking Regions and Beyond

Bastille Day commemorations extend beyond France, resonating in French-speaking regions and all over the globe. In former French colonies in Africa and the Caribbean, as well as in Belgium and Canada, July 14 is celebrated by combining French customs and local traditions. For example, in New Orleans, Bastille Day is observed with street parties, French cuisine, and music. In Senegal, the day serves as a reminder of the country’s shared history with France and includes cultural events and reflections on Franco-African relations.


The global celebrations of Bastille Day highlight the widespread influence of French culture and values, including the enduring ideals of France’s national motto: liberté, égalité, fraternité—liberty, equality, fraternity. Bastille Day parties involve picnics with delicious French food, art exhibits, and French films. The French Revolution had a lasting impact on the global concepts of democracy and human rights, and Bastille Day is a festive way to remember this history.



By Kelli Drummer-Avendano


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