New Year’s Day. January 1. New Year’s Eve is also called Saint-Sylvestre, who was Pope in the early 300s AD. He doesn’t really have anything special to do with calendars or New Years, except for the fact that his feast day is on December 31. In France, many people kiss under mistletoe at the stroke of midnight (which is different from the American [and other country’s] tradition of kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas). Large parties with a lot of special food and wine –especially champagne– gather in bars, restaurants, clubs, or people’s homes. Some people share their resolutions, and even exchange gifts or cards with their friends and family.
Good Friday/Easter/Easter Monday. Varies. Good Friday is only a public holiday in Alsace and Moselle. Everyone else has to work. Many people choose to fast on Good Friday. Easter is welcomed with bells ringing from every church. And of course with chocolate eggs hidden for children to find. Easter Monday, the day after Easter, is normally spent quietly with family. Some families go on an outing if the weather is nice. Other cities and towns may have their own traditions and parades on Easter Monday.
May Day/Labour Day. May 1. Labour Day is a day to honor workers all over the country and the world and to discuss labor issues at hand. Unions or other labor organizations will often hold a parade or other event on this day. It also doubles as May Day. Many people get up early to pick flowers to give to friends and loved ones, especially lily-of-the-valley or dog rose flowers.
Victory in Europe Day. May 8. This is the holiday that celebrates the end of WWII, and ergo France’s freedom. It’s a time when schools will focus on the history of Nazi Oppression and the events of WWII. On this day in 1945, Charles de Gaulle, leader of the French Free Forces, announced the official end of the war to the French people. The French flag is displayed in homes and on public buildings in cities and town across the country. Parades, festivals, and church services are common events on this day.
Ascension Day. Varies. Christians believe this is the day that Jesus ascended into heaven after being raised from the dead. It falls 40 days after Easter. Some attend special church services held in honor of the day, but many people use this day to spend time with their families and even take a short trip for the extended weekend.
Whit Monday. Varies. Also called Pentecost Monday, it falls on the Monday after Pentecost, which is 50 days after Easter. Christians believe this is the day the Holy Spirit came to the disciples. This holiday was actually taken off the books as a public holiday in 2005. However, there were so many protests that it was included again in 2008. (After 2005, it was replaced with a holiday called Day of Solidarity, which basically meant that on this day, you would work for free and the wages you normally received would go towards taking care of the elderly and those with disabilities. This action is what led to protests, I believe, and not necessarily that they were really attached to Whit Monday.)
Bastille Day. July 14. Also known as French National Day, this holiday commemorates the Storming of the Bastille in 1789. The Bastille was a fortress turned prison in Paris. It had become the symbol of the oppressive rule of the monarchy. When the troops stormed the prison, it became the starting point for the French Revolution. The French flag is flown all over the country, and historical stories are told about the events that took place. Military parades are one tradition that takes place, along with concerts, dances, traditional food and drink, ending in a grand fireworks display.
Assumption of Mary to Heaven. August 15. This holiday is based on the Catholic Church’s belief that the Virgin Mary’s body and spirit was assumed into heaven. Special services are held, and some small towns may even have festivals or parades in honor of the day.
All Saints’ Day. November 1. Another Catholic holiday, people honor their deceased loved ones. It’s also used as a general feast day for all of the saints, especially the ones who do not have their own feast day. People may attend special service held at their church as well as clean up or decorate the gravesites of their loved ones.
Armistice Day. November 11. Armistice Day is in honor of those who fought and died in WWI, officially marking the end of the war on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” Similar to celebrations in the US, some of the traditions include special church services, military parades, special events at war memorials and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and speeches by politicians or members of the military.
Christmas Day. December 25. This is one of the most important holidays of the year. Many French families put up a Christmas tree and Nativity scenes, and cities are outlined in Christmas lights. Children open up gifts on Christmas Eve, and sharing a special traditional Christmas meal with delectable desserts is a must. Exactly what is served may vary by family and region. In 1962, a law was enacted that every letter sent to Santa received a reply by postcard.
St. Stephen’s Day. December 26. This is only a public holiday in Alsace and Moselle. Everyone else has to work. St. Stephen is often considered the first Christian martyr, so some people may attend special services on this day. Most people who are lucky enough to have this day off spend it relaxing after the Christmas holiday.
Up next: art and literature