Perhaps you’ve heard of Bastille Day, the French national holiday in July. Tutor Annie A. shares history and vocabulary to help you observe this holiday like the French do…
The History of Bastille Day
Bastille Day, or le quatorze juillet as they say in France, commemorates the storming of Bastille on July 14, 1789 by the French masses.
The Bastille was a fortified prison where political prisoners were usually kept – some even without the formality of a trial. There were seven prisoners on that fateful July 14 when a crowd of angry and determined Frenchmen forced the gates open and released them.
This was the beginning of the French Revolution. Within twenty days, feudalism was abolished and a little later the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen was proclaimed.
Prior to the French revolution, French society was divided into three very distinct classes: the clergy, known as the first estate, the nobility, or the second estate, and finally the third estate, the common people. The clergy and nobility were the smallest and also the richest classes, while the third estate lived in extreme poverty.
For the French populace, the Bastille stood as a symbol of the corruption behind the wealth and power of the clergy and nobility. When the common people initiated the revolution, it symbolized the end of absolute monarchy and the beginning of the French Republic.
It was in 1880 that July 14th was chosen as a national holiday, or Fête Nationale.
Bastille Day Today
The French celebrate Bastille Day with a lot of fervor and gusto. On the morning of le quatorze juillet, a multitude gathers at the Champs Élysées, waiting for the oldest and the largest military parade in Europe. The President of the French Republic attends the event which consists of both the parade of troops on foot, mounted troops, and motorized troops.
The spectacular firework display to celebrate the occasion starts in the evening, usually around 11:00 pm, and lasts for about thirty minutes. The fireworks in Paris are particularly captivating; the resplendent Eiffel Tower glows in the mist as the decorative ponds of Trocadéro reflect bright balls of fire.
Another amazing event is a big concert by the Orchestre Nationale de la France which takes place at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and stars renowned, international artists. This is a free event that takes on a new theme each year.
The Firemen’s Ball in selected fire stations is another interesting activity, and the festivities can last until 4:00 am. There may be an entrance fee or a donation requested to improve the working condition of the staff.
Interestingly the Bastille Day celebrations are held in other countries. Belgium, the Czech Republic, Hungary, United Kingdom, and United States of America, among others celebrate this day each year. Over fifty cities in USA have events to mark the occasion.
Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Portland, Sacramento, San Francisco, Seattle, and St. Louis have different kind of festivals. These events are typically organized with the help of the French Cultural Center or Alliance Française located in these cities. Mostly the festivities revolve around fine wining and dining.
French Vocabulary for Bastille Day
Now let’s take a look at some French vocabulary related to the Bastille Day. First of all, Bastille Day is called le quatorze juillet or la fête nationale. You do not wish a Happy Bastille Day in French. It’s not the custom.
The French Revolution is la Revolution Francaise.
Republic is la Republique.
The French flag is le drapeau tricolore.
Fireworks are le feu d’artifice.
A military parade is le defile.
The homeland is la patrie.
Long Live France is Vive la France.
The Storming of the Bastille is la Prise de la Bastille.
The Eiffel Tower is la tour Eiffel.
The French national anthem is “La Marseillaise“.
Now that you have a bit of history and vocabulary, you can celebrate Bastille Day in the French fashion. Vive la France!