Bastille Day… That’s the French 4th of July, right?
*Originally posted July 14th, 2016
Every year around this time, I admire the accomplishments of our founding fathers. Although things certainly weren’t perfect then, and we know they aren’t perfect now, the signing of the Declaration of Independence propelled our country towards certain rights for all. Since the signing of one of our nation’s most significant documents in 1776, our nation continues to work towards a society that guarantees the rights to life, liberty, and happiness for all.
Interestingly enough, France’s Bastille Day celebrates a less unifying part of history – the storming of the medieval prison fortress in 1789. During this time, the Bastille was a symbol of royal tyranny. The surging of the Bastille was the event that sparked the French Revolution, and thus, the reason why le quatorze juillet (July 14th) is recognized as a national holiday in France. Notably, no French person calls le quatorze juillet – Bastille Day. It’s an angliscme (an English language word borrow/creation) that is widely used in America.
Not only are the historical reasons behind the 4th of July and Bastille Day vastly different, the ways in which they are celebrated vary too. In America, citizens across the country sport outfits of red, white, and blue in support of the national holiday. Community parades, fireworks, and BBQs are commonplace in both rural and urban settings. Children often gather to decorate their bicycles; and families, friends, and neighbors come together to honor our founding fathers, and the men and women who continue to serve and protect, today.
Although a national holiday, most French citizens do not overtly celebrate this day. In Paris, a gigantic military parade marches down the Champs-Elysees and the evening ends with impressive feu d’artifice (fireworks) near the Eiffel Tour. In the countryside, local fireman stations called Caserne de pompiers hold neighborhood balls. One could expect dancing, singing, and food, of course. This is France after all! But other than these two examples, Bastille Day is more so a day of recognition, than a day of celebration.
So what’s the take away? Culturally, Bastille Day is the French equivalent to America’s Fourth of July. Objectively speaking, it is anything but.