What is Bastille Day?
Bastille Day is the national holiday of France. In French, it is called called “La Fête Nationale” (pronounced la fɛt nasjɔnal) or “La Fête de la Bastille” (pronounced la fɛt də la bastij), and is celebrated annually on the 14th of July. Bastille Day traditions include a military parade in Paris and an aircraft flyover.
Bastille Day historical context
Bastille Day, France’s biggest and most patriotic national holiday, commemorates the storming of the Bastille (la prise de la Bastille) on 14 July 1789 at the beginning of the French Revolution. The Bastille was an old fortress that was used as a prison. The holiday celebrates the falling of the French monarchy (l’ancien régime) and the unification of the l’Hexagone (nickname for France due to its shape). This page on history.com offers many more facts and insights onto the history of Bastille Day.
How to pronounce “Bastille”
Before we go any further and look at the traditions, let’s take a close look at how to pronounce “bastille“. The word “bastille” has a double-l, which can be confusing. For this word, do not pronounce the double-l like -l as in “lemon”. Pronounce it like a slight -y sound as in the word “fille” (girl).
This page on Forvo gives several good audio samples of “bastille”. In the following video, our friend Julien, a French teacher on YouTube, show us the correct pronunciation of “bastille”.
Bastille Day Traditions
Bastille Day military parade
Every year on the morning of the 14th of July there is a military parade (le défilé militaire du 14 juillet) in Paris. The parade goes down Les Champs-Elysées to Place de la Concorde. The parade is attended by thousands of onlookers as well as the French president and notable French and foreign dignitaries. The president, currently Emmanuel Macron, gives a unifying speech.
The parade has been held almost every year since 1880 without fail. Military parades are held in other major cities around France.
Every year on 14 July at around 10:30am there is a French air force flyover (le défile aérien du 14 juillet). Fighter jets fly over rooftops La Défence then make their way over the Champs-Elysees. They steam red, white and blue contrails, the colors of the French flag.
Every year, fireworks displays are put on in Paris and other cities on the evening of 14th of July. In Paris, the fireworks show is put on against the backdrop of the Eiffel Tower lit up in red, white and blue. There is also endless partying in the streets.
Other important Bastille Day traditions
In Paris and through out France other important Bastille Day celebrations take place including concerts, communal meals and dances.