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Thursday, June 21, 2012

French National Holidays, their Jours Fériés, and More. A Short Guide.

Behind the French Menu.
Bryan Newman
Updated December 2018
Jour de l'An, New Year’s Celebrations.
France has 11 Jours Fériés, National Holidays
You need to know the French holidays when planning your trip. You may join in the celebrations national and local carnivals but check the dates as many move around every year, and many museums and other attractions can be closed on national and local holidays; the same goes for restaurants.

In addition to the National Holidays noted below there are many other celebrations that include Halloween, Carnival, Valentine’s Day, etc.. Visitors are welcome at all the French Celebrations, but you need to know the French holidays when planning your trip!  The UK and the USA, and most other countries have French Government Tourist Offices that you may visit or contact for the price of a local call. Use the internet and if you have already arrived your hotel or Air BnB host or hostess may help with local information.

N.B. France has a Government Tourist Information Office in practically every town and village of historical or touristic interest. They will give you maps of wine routes and cheese roads etc. They will also provide information on fetes, concerts, and other celebrations in the towns and villages around. These offices also have the dates and addresses for farmers' markets round about. Nevertheless, many of the smaller tourist information offices close for a one and a half-hour lunch break.  Check ahead otherwise you may miss a fabulous wine celebration or a fete for the local pink garlic, fresh sardines, cheeses or sausages. 
The 11 French National Holidays begin on the night of

the 31st of December and the first day of January:
Jour de l'An or Le Nouvel An - New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. 
  Expect fireworks, parties, special menus, and champagne on many menus on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.  Many museums are closed.

Lundi de Pâques
Easter Monday:
   Today Easter Monday is a secularized holiday that, however, the day still follows the lunar dates of the Protestant and Catholic traditions.  Watch out for special menus, cakes and of course Easter eggs.

Fête du Travail or Fête du Premier Mai, May 1 –  
Labor Day:   
   The 1st of May in France closes more public places than any other country in Europe except Italy. The only National Tourist site that I know that remains open in Paris on May 1 is the Eifel Tower!  Nevertheless, most private museums are open and so are churches and the boats on the Seine.
Victoire, Fête de la Victoire 1945 or Fête du Huitième, 8 May -
The celebration of the end of WWII:
   There are memorial assemblies at war cemeteries and at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe.  For those too young to remember that war, and those who have no family members who were hurt or killed in any war this is, for many, just another paid holiday.
Arc de Triomphe
Ascension, L'Ascension or Fête de la Ascension
Ascension Day:      
    A secularized Christian Holiday.  The Ascension Day holiday is held 40 days after Easter, 39 days after Easter Sunday. The dates change every year following lunar calendar of the Protestant and Catholic tradition.  Some restaurants may have special menus.
Pentecôte or Lundi de Pentecôte
Whit Monday:
    Pentecost is another secularized Christian holiday.  The holiday is held 49 days after Easter Monday. In France in 2005 this holiday became a source of discord; then the French Government suggested making the holiday a day where government employees worked but donated their pay to the sick and elderly. Somehow that didn’t work out! 
    Pentecost is the Greek name for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot that commemorates the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. This holiday was adopted by the early Christians to mark the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the Twelve Disciples.
Fête Nationale - Le Quatorze Juillet -
Bastille Day, July 14:    

    Bastille Day represents the beginning of the French revolution. It is called "Le Quatorze Juillet" in French and is also looked forward to, by many, today, as the beginning of four weeks of uninterrupted summer vacation.  This holiday celebrates the storming of the Bastille – The Parisian prison on the 14 of July 1789. Hence Le Quatorze Juillet, Bastille Day.  The 14th of July 1789 is considered, by most, as the starting date for the French revolution. It matters little that, at the time, the Bastille was stormed it held only eight prisoners all of whom were aristocrats and included one lunatic.  The anniversary of Bastille day on the 14th of July may be called Bastille Day in English but in France use French name “Le Quatorze Juillet”. Le Quatorze Juillet is France’s Fête Nationale, its National Day.
   For the tourist, from outside France, the four to six weeks following the 14th of July is one of the best times to find a parking place in the cities. Outside of the cities, however, those 4 to 6 weeks is the worst time to look for a vacation rental. On the 14th of July, the French leave the cities in droves for their summer holidays, and they will either have moved to their own holiday home, rented a vacation home or made reservations for local hotels long before then.  

14th July, Bastille Day. Le Quatorze Juillet.
    Of the Bastille Prison itself, there is no a trace; however, the site remains one of Paris’s most famous squares, La Place de la Bastille. Today that square is, apart from its history, more importantly, home to Paris’s second and largest, and newest opera house, the Opéra Bastille; built-in 1989 it holds 2,700 people in one hall.

    Despite the importance of Le Quatorze Juillet, the 14th of July, the French revolution did not, in fact, begin on that date. The French revolution began at the Chateau of Versailles, on June 20th, 1789. Still, tradition is tradition. Similarities may be Seen in the USA where the Congress voted for independence on the 2nd of July; however, the 4th of July, the date the final Declaration was read out is the USA Independence Day.
Assomption or Fete de l'Assomption - 
Assumption Day, 15th of August:
    Assumption Day is another secularized Christian holiday.  For the visitor, most restaurants and places of tourist interest keep to their regular schedules.  The Christian tradition the date commemorates the acceptance of Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, into Heaven. 
All Saints Day, or All Hallows, November 1:  
    All Saints Day was created by the French Pope Urban I (1261-64) as a day of celebration for all those Saints who may have been unintentionally ignored during the rest of the year. it is another secularized Christian Holyday. For many French citizens this is the day after Halloween which itself is a new and imported holiday. For more about France and Halloween see further down this post.

Toussaint - All Saints Day,
Photograph courtesy of claire poisson
Armistice, Jour d'Armistice
Armistice Day 1918; November 11.  
   The date celebrates the end of WWI,  Tourist attractions and restaurants mostly operate with their regular schedules.  
Fête de Noël or Fête Noël
Christmas day; December 25. 
   In the regions of Alsace and Lorraine the 26 of December are also National Holidays; elsewhere, in France, the 26th of December is a regular workday.
   In addition to having 11 national holidays, many towns and villages have their own local unpaid holidays usually held over a weekend. These local celebrations may originally have had historical, agricultural or religious backgrounds and now these festivals are mostly celebrating local produce, vegetables, fish, herbs, wines, cheeses, sausages and more; everyone has a good time while invigorating the local economy.  Check for events 10 km (6 miles) to 20 km (13 miles)  around the area or areas you will be visiting; with luck you may have arrived in time for the local black pudding festival, a garlic fete, a sardine happening, the tasting of a young new wine or the first day of the asparagus season.
The following are not National Holidays, but you should still expect parties and special restaurant menus:
Epiphany or La Fête des Rois - 
Epiphany or the feast of the three kings. The first Sunday after January 1:

.   Epiphany for most is an unofficial secularized holiday, and for restaurants, it is another chance to create special menus. In the north of France mainly in private homes, a traditional cake, the Galette des Rois, the King’s pancake or wafer; will be divided amongst the guests and inside one portion will be a small figurine or some other surprise.  In Provence there is a similar tradition, they have their own cake called the Gâteau des Rois, the King’s Cake.  The recipes of these cakes are supposed to be traditional, but they seem to vary a great deal. These cakes may be on many restaurant menus from Christmas and on through January.
 Carnaval – 
Carnival and Mardi Gras. 

    The dates of most French Carnival celebrations are no longer tied to the original Christian dates, but they are still very important celebrations for tourists and locals. Some celebrations are held over a two-day weekend and the most famous, the  Carnaval de Nice is held over a two-week period in February and or March.
The Nice Carnaval.
The Carnaval de Nice English language website:

Fêtés St-Valentin or the Fête des Amoureux - 
Valentines Day.14 February:
    Not a traditional a French holiday at all, and like Halloween a relatively recent import; but, the Fêtés St-Valentin, the Fête des Amoureux, now a big day with cards, gifts, flowers, chocolates, cakes shaped like hearts and special menus in many restaurants.
Valentines Day
Photograph courtesy of Lucie Provencher
Fête des Mères or Fête des Mamans – 
Mother’s day; the last Sunday in May.
Fêtes de Pères or Fêtes de Papas – 
Father’s day; the third Sunday in June.
Solstice d'Été   - 
The summer solstice, 21st June except on leap years.  
   Druid celebrations in Brittany and some Christian-based celebrations in Provence.

Halloween October 31.
    Halloween is not a traditional French Holiday, despite that, today Halloween is enjoyed, and celebrated in France, with thanks to the USA. Halloween, however, is a work day and school day; so celebrations will be in the evening and restaurants will have special menus.       

Halloween; a Successful American Import.
Photograph by Stuart Miles.

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   Just add the word, words, or phrase that you are searching for to the words "Behind the French Menu" and search with Google. Behind the French Menu’s links include hundreds of words, names, and phrases that are seen on French menus. There are over 450 articles that include over 4,000 French dishes with English translations and explanations. 
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2012, 2018.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman

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