Tête-à-Tête: Why Do We Celebrate Bastille Day?


IF YOU’RE like me, every July 14th you forget about Bastille Day until it actually arrives (HI, IT’S TODAY), and you use it as an excuse for the calories in your croissant not to count. But what does Bastille Day commemorate and why and how is it celebrated? Our French friends call it, La Fête Nationale. Translation: The National Celebration, where France rallies to celebrate the beginning of the French Revolution on July 14, 1789.

Here’s a little refresher in case you fell asleep in high school history or haven’t caught the episode that covers The French Revolution on Drunk History yet. The French Revolution basically said, “F You” to the monarchy and the church controlling everything and gave rise to democracy. It brought about the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Louis XVI was even executed during the war. Off with his tête! And some other fancy stuff.

Back to Bastille Day.

Bastille Day celebrates the beginning of the Revolution with the Storming of the Bastille. A French mob led the path to freedom, raiding the Bastille, its arsenal of gun powder and ammunition, and freeing the seven political prisoners it held.

When the Duc de Liancourt informed the King  of the events at the Bastille, Louis asked his adviser “Is this a revolt?” To which de Liancourt replied: “No Majesty, this is a revolution”.

In 1880 a law to make July 14th a national holiday was suggested, and France has been celebrating their red, white, and blue ever since.

While celebrations are held all over France, one of the biggest events, The Bastille Day Military Parade is held in the morning on the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris. Traditionally, the President gives press interviews, talks about the country’s recent events and what it has in store for it’s future. In a move that makes Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision making skills questionable (aside from wifing up Carla Bruni) the former President put an end to this tradition when he was elected in 2007. However when François Hollande defeated Sarkozy in 2012 he reinstated the tradition.

Though Bastille Day is a French holiday, it’s celebrated everywhere from Prague to India to New Zealand. Believe it or not, in the US, it’s Baltimore that holds the country’s largest Bastille Day celebration. Even if you don’t participate in an official celebration, on July 14th you can still celebrate with a ménage à trois: you, pastries, and a good Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

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