If you live in the United States, you probably celebrate Independence Day with fireworks every July 4. But what if you lived in France? Would you believe you’d do much the same thing…only on July 14?
It’s true! July 14 is Bastille Day, which is what English-speaking countries call France’s annual national celebration. In France, this celebration is called “La Fête Nationale” (The National Celebration) or “le quatorze juillet” (the 14th of July).
Bastille Day celebrates the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. The Bastille was a fortress in Paris used as a prison. At the time, it was a symbol of the oppression French citizens suffered under the rule of Louis XVI. Many prisoners held in the Bastille had been imprisoned by the king under orders that could not be appealed.
Those who stormed the Bastille that day got hold of ammunition and gunpowder, and released a few prisoners. Its importance, though, was largely symbolic, as it represented to many the uprising of the new French nation that wanted to be free of the absolute power and oppression of the king.
One year later, on July 14, 1790, the Fête de la Fédération was a huge feast that was held as an official event to celebrate the uprising that had occurred the year before. The storming of the Bastille was seen as the start of the French Revolution. Having established a new government by the people with separation of powers, the newly-free French were ready to celebrate!
Each year on July 14, celebrations and ceremonies take place all over France. In fact, Bastille Day is celebrated all over the world by those of French descent. One of the longstanding traditions of Bastille Day is the military parade held on the morning of July 14 along the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris in front of the French President.
Other traditions include giant fireworks displays, feasts and parties. Many cities in the United States have annual Bastille Day celebrations, including Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle.
Just like the signing of the Declaration of Independence signaled the start of the American Revolution, the storming of the Bastille signaled the start of the Great Revolution in France. French citizens celebrate the start of a new form of government on July 14 just like Americans do on July 4. Long live freedom and vive la France!