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La Fête Nationale du 14 Juillet, or Bastille Day as most English-speakers call it, celebrates the start of the French Revolution which began with the storming of the Bastille on that day in 1789. When I first moved to France, I assumed Bastille Day would be like the 4th of July, only 10 days later. I expected to see flags flying, barbecues, local parades and fireworks. Except for the barbecues, France does have all of those things for 14 July, but with a decidedly French twist. First, the flags: In the U.S., we’re used to seeing Old Glory hanging year ’round on the front of nearly every house, school, bank and parking lot. Here in France, from what I can tell, outside of soccer supporters, the military and those on the political far right, people don’t typically display French flags- except on Le Quatorze Juillet. On July 14th in Paris, the Champs Elysées is lined with the tricoleur, the French flag, with an enormous one also hanging from the Arc de Triomphe. Unlike Independence Day in the States, La Fête Nationale is more of a military celebration.

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Here in Paris, the highlight of the day is the military parade (défilé) in the morning. All branches of the French military, including the Royal Horse Artillery, the French Foreign Legion with their leather aprons and axes (!?), and my personal favorite- the Paris Fire Brigade (Brigade des sapeurs-pompiers de Paris) who are a faction of the French Army and also have a gymnastics team which sometimes performs during the parade (not to be missed, ladies. Just sayin’…) march down the Champs Elysées past the President of France, dignitaries and spectators. It all ends with a dramatic playing of the Marseillaise and a red, white and blue fly-over by the French Air Force.

 

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As I mentioned, barbecues aren’t a big Bastille Day thing in Paris, but what is popular are the Bals des Pompiers– the Firehouse Balls. Held either on July 13th or 14th, all around Paris and neighboring villages (and many other towns across France), the Bal des Pompiers is the place to cut loose and blow off some summer steam. For a small entrance fee (which goes to the upkeep of the station) you can drink and dance for hours- all while supporting your local “boys in light blue”.
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Bastille Day partying

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Summer days are long in Paris, so it doesn’t usually get dark until around 10:00 PM. If you can tear yourself away from the Firemen, the last stop on the Fête National is the Jardins de Trocadéro at nightfall. Starting with a classical music concert at the base of the Eiffel Tower, the holiday ends with an amazing fireworks display lighting up the Parisian skies.

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You may not be in France to celebrate this Bastille Day, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t bring the fête home. Across the U.S., many Alliance Francaise locations will be hosting their own mini versions of la Fête Nationale. A maxi sundress and a big floppy hat will help you get into that Parisian mood. Pack up a wheel of stinky cheese, some fruit, a baguette and maybe a bottle of sparkling French Lemonade. Toss it all in a basket, grab your pétanque set, download Stromae’s latest – and you’re ready to go! Vive la France!

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Celebrate Bastille Day in America

(clockwise l. to r.) pétanque set: hermès, picnic hamper: johnlewis, tricoleur summer necklace: wildflowersandgrace wide brim hat: helene berman, sleaveless maxi dress: raquel allegra, “petit peu” plates: purehome striped poppet espadrilles: via vela 14, french fireman’s sweater: Altuzarra,

Bastille Day Celebrations in the US!

Bastille Day on 60th – Alliance Francaise New York

Bastille Day Chicago – Alliance Francaise

Bastille Day Fun – Alliance Francaise Portland

Soirée Blanche Bastille Day – Alliance Francaise Atlanta

Bastille Day Sarasota

 

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