Bastille Day 2023: what is French national day, what happened on 14 July in France, how does Paris celebrate?

Bastille Day has been celebrated for over 200 years

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One of the most important days in the history of France takes place every July, Bastille Day. It is one of the most significant days for the nation because it marks the fall of the Bastille, a military fortress and political prison which was considered a symbol of the monarchy and armoury in the 18th century.

So, just what is Bastille Day, when is it and how is it celebrated in France and the UK? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Bastille Day?

Bastille Day is a national day in France. Bastille Day is the name given to the day in English-speaking countries, but In French, it is formally called Fête nationale française which translates as French National Celebration. It celebrates two events; the anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille in 1789, which was a major event of the French Revolution, and also the Fête de la Fédération, which celebrated the unity of the French people on the same day a year later.

When is Bastille Day?

Bastille Day takes place on 14 July each yet as this is the date when the Storming of Bastille happened. This year, Bastille Day, falls on Friday 14 July. In France, Bastille Day is known legally as le 14 juillet, which translates as the 14th of July.

Fireworks light up the Eiffel Tower as part the annual Bastille Day Celebrations on July 14, in Paris, France.Fireworks light up the Eiffel Tower as part the annual Bastille Day Celebrations on July 14, in Paris, France.
Fireworks light up the Eiffel Tower as part the annual Bastille Day Celebrations on July 14, in Paris, France.

How will Bastille Day be celebrated in France?

Celebrations are held throughout France every year on Bastille Day. One of the celebrations that takes place has been reported as the oldest and largest military parade in Europe. The Bastille Day military parade, also known as the 14 July military parade and Défilé militaire du 14 juillet in French, is held on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

It takes place in front of the President of the Republic, along with other French officials and foreign guests. The parade has been held on the morning of 14 July each year since 1880, almost without exception.The parade passes down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées from Place Charles de Gaulle, centred around the Arc de Triomphe, to the Place de la Concorde.

The parade opens with cadets from the military schools in order of seniority, followed by various officials including foot soldiers, army infantry, and the Foreign Legion. Occasionally non-military police and fire units also take part. There’s also a flypast of the French Air Force and Naval Air Force planes and helicopters. Smaller military parades are also held in French garrison towns, including Toulon and Belfort, with local troops.

The day is one for relaxation and celebration with family, friends and loved ones. In the evening, fireworks and popular dances known as Bal des pompiers, which translates as the Firemen’s Ball, take place throughout the country.

Bastille Day celebrations may be somewhat less colourful than usual, however, in France this year due to fire concerns brought about by the extreme temperatures the country is experiencing and due to the Cerberus heatwave. Firework displays which usually take place to mark the day could be cancelled in some areas of the country to avoid generating further heat.

The French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has also banned the sale of fireworks until 15 July in an effort to "protect the French" following days of violence and unrest after the shooting of a teenager, as revealed by The Telegraph, so any private celebrations in people's homes are also likely to be less of a spectacle.

How is Bastille Day celebrated in the UK?

In the UK, Bastille Day is mainly celebrated in the capital city, London, as it has a large French population. There are celebrations held at various locations across the city including Battersea Park, Camden Town and Kentish Town. Live entertainment is performed at Canary Wharf, with weeklong performances of French theatre at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town.

Restaurants feature cabarets and special menus across the city, and other celebrations include garden parties and sports tournaments. There is also a large event at the Bankside and Borough Market, where there is live music, street performers, and traditional French games that visitors can play.

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