Bank holidays in France are a unique blend of historical commemorations, religious observances, and national celebrations. Each holiday carries its own story and significance, marking important events in French history or celebrating universal themes that resonate with people across the country. From the historical significance of Bastille Day to the religious observance of Easter Monday, these holidays offer a window into the French soul.
As a foreigner in France, navigating these holidays can be both exciting and challenging. The closure of businesses, altered public transport schedules, and bustling festivities require practical planning and adjustment. However, these days also present a wonderful opportunity to experience French culture in its most vibrant form. By participating in local customs and celebrations, foreigners can connect more deeply with their community and gain a richer understanding of what it means to live in France.
Bank holidays in France
|New Year’s Day (Jour de l’An)
|Celebrates the new year with festivities.
|Easter Monday (Lundi de Pâques)
|Christian holiday following Easter Sunday.
|Labor Day (Fête du Travail)
|Honors workers’ rights with demonstrations.
|Victory in Europe Day (Fête de la Victoire)
|Marks the end of WWII in Europe.
|Ascension Day (Ascension)
|Commemorates the ascension of Jesus Christ.
|Bastille Day (Fête Nationale)
|Celebrates French Revolution and national pride.
|Assumption of Mary (Assomption)
|Christian holiday honoring Virgin Mary.
|All Saints’ Day (Toussaint)
|Day to honor saints and deceased loved ones.
|Armistice Day (Armistice de 1918)
|Remembers the end of WWI and fallen soldiers.
|Christmas Day (Noël)
|Celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.
List of Bank Holidays in France
France observes a variety of bank holidays throughout the year, each with its own significance and way of celebration. Here is a list of the major bank holidays that are nationally recognized in France.
Explanation of Each Holiday
Each bank holiday in France is not just a day off work but a celebration with deep cultural and historical roots. Let’s explore each holiday in detail:
New Year’s Day (Jour de l’An) – January 1st
Significance: This universal holiday marks the beginning of the new year. In France, it’s celebrated with enthusiasm and joy, reflecting hope and renewal.
Traditions: Festivities include family gatherings, feasting, and exchanging New Year’s resolutions. The night before, known as “Saint-Sylvestre,” is marked by festive meals and fireworks.
Easter Monday (Lundi de Pâques) – Date varies
Significance: Following Easter Sunday, this Christian holiday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a time of renewal and joy.
Traditions: The day is often spent with family. Traditional activities include Easter egg hunts and enjoying special meals like lamb dishes.
Labor Day (Fête du Travail) – May 1st
Significance: This day honors workers’ rights and the labor movement. It is a symbol of the ongoing struggle for workers’ rights and social justice.
Traditions: Demonstrations and parades are common, and it’s a tradition to give lily-of-the-valley flowers to loved ones for good luck.
Victory in Europe Day (Fête de la Victoire) – May 8th
Significance: Marks the end of WWII in Europe, a significant moment in French history. It’s a day of national pride and remembrance.
Traditions: Commemorative ceremonies are held nationwide, including laying wreaths and honoring war veterans.
Ascension Day (Ascension) – Date varies
Significance: A Christian holiday, 40 days after Easter, commemorating the ascension of Jesus into heaven.
Traditions: Religious services are held, and it’s a day for reflection and prayer. Some people also use the long weekend for short vacations or family reunions.
Bastille Day (Fête Nationale) – July 14th
Significance: Commemorates the storming of the Bastille and the start of the French Revolution, a key event in France’s fight for freedom.
Traditions: Marked by military parades, notably the grand parade on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, fireworks, and public festivities.
Assumption of Mary (Assomption) – August 15th
Significance: A Christian holiday recognizing the belief in the Virgin Mary’s assumption into heaven.
Traditions: Church services and religious processions are common. In some regions, there are also fairs and local festivals.
All Saints’ Day (Toussaint) – November 1st
Significance: A day to honor saints and remember deceased loved ones. It reflects France’s deep-rooted Christian traditions.
Traditions: Visiting graves of loved ones, decorating them with flowers, especially chrysanthemums, and attending church services.
Armistice Day (Armistice de 1918) – November 11th
Significance: Commemorates the end of WWI and honors the memory of those who died in the war.
Traditions: Wreath-laying ceremonies at war memorials, a minute of silence at 11 am, and various commemorative events.
Christmas Day (Noël) – December 25th
Significance: Celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. It’s a time of family, sharing, and joy, integral to French culture.
Traditions: Families gather for a festive meal, often including dishes like roast turkey and the traditional “bûche de Noël” (Yule log) cake. Gift exchanges and attending midnight Mass are also common.
Practical Information for Foreigners
Navigating bank holidays in France can be a unique experience for foreigners. Understanding how these days impact daily life and services is essential for smooth integration into French society. Here are some practical tips and information:
Business Closures and Public Services
General Observance: Most businesses, government offices, banks, and post offices are closed on bank holidays. However, tourist attractions, restaurants, and some shops, especially in larger cities, may remain open.
Transportation: Public transportation may operate on a reduced schedule. It’s advisable to check the schedules in advance, especially if you’re planning to travel.
Shopping and Daily Necessities
Grocery Stores and Shops: Small shops and grocery stores might close or have limited hours. Large supermarkets in cities may remain open but often close earlier than usual.
Planning Ahead: It’s wise to plan your shopping and errands in advance to avoid inconvenience, especially before major holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Medical Services and Emergencies
Hospitals and Pharmacies: Hospitals remain open, but non-emergency services might be limited. Pharmacies operate on a duty system, with some open to cater to urgent needs.
Emergency Numbers: In case of emergencies, dial 112 (European emergency number) or 15 (French emergency medical services).
Cultural Participation and Respect
Joining Celebrations: Bank holidays are excellent opportunities to experience French culture. Many cities host public events, parades, and festivities that foreigners are welcome to attend.
Respecting Traditions: While participating, it’s important to respect the cultural and historical significance of these holidays. Each celebration has its etiquette and customs, which are appreciated by the local community.
Language and Communication
Language Barrier: Not all information about holiday events and changes in services might be available in English. Basic French phrases or a translation app can be invaluable in these situations.
Local Information Sources: Check local municipality websites, community boards, or tourist information centers for specific details regarding holiday schedules and events.
Engaging with Locals: Holidays are a great time to socialize and engage with neighbors and locals. It’s a chance to build relationships and understand the French way of life better.
Learning Opportunities: Each holiday is an opportunity to learn about French history and culture. Don’t hesitate to ask locals about the significance and customs associated with each holiday.
While France celebrates a set of national bank holidays, it’s important to note that there are regional variations that reflect the diverse cultural heritage of the country. These regional holidays offer a unique glimpse into local customs and traditions.
La Festa di a Nazione (Feast of the Nation) – December 8th: This day is specific to Corsica, celebrating its identity and autonomy. It commemorates the day Corsica declared its constitution in 1735. Celebrations include cultural events, parades, and public speeches emphasizing Corsican history and culture.
Alsace and Lorraine
Good Friday and Saint Stephen’s Day: Unique to the regions of Alsace and Lorraine, these Christian holidays are observed due to historical ties with Germany, where these days are also public holidays. Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, while Saint Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas, honors Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr.
French Overseas Departments and Territories
Abolition of Slavery Days: Different dates are observed in French overseas departments and territories to commemorate the abolition of slavery. For instance, May 22nd in Martinique, May 27th in Guadeloupe, and June 10th in French Guiana. These days are marked by ceremonies, cultural events, and discussions on the history and impact of slavery.
Festival of Brittany (Gouel Breizh) – May: Although not a public holiday, this week-long festival is significant in Brittany, celebrating Breton culture, language, music, and dance. It’s a vibrant display of regional identity, with various events and festivities held across the region.
Feast of Saint John (Fête de la Saint-Jean) – June 24th: Again, not a public holiday but a notable regional celebration in Provence, where the summer solstice is celebrated with bonfires, traditional music, and dances. This event has its roots in ancient pagan rituals and is a vibrant display of local customs.
Integrating into French Culture through Holidays
For foreigners living in France, engaging with the country’s bank holidays is not just about observing days off work; it’s a meaningful way to integrate into French culture and society. These holidays offer a unique opportunity to connect with the local community, understand the national psyche, and embrace the rich traditions of France.
Embracing the Celebrations
- Participation: Actively participating in holiday festivities can be a joyful and enlightening experience. Whether it’s watching a Bastille Day parade, joining a local Easter egg hunt, or attending a Christmas market, these activities provide a firsthand experience of French customs and traditions.
- Understanding Significance: Each holiday has its historical or religious significance. Learning about the background of these holidays can deepen your appreciation of French culture and history, providing context to the celebrations you witness and partake in.
Cultural Learning and Adaptation
- Language and Communication: Holidays often come with specific greetings and phrases. Learning these can enhance your interaction with locals and show respect for the culture. For instance, saying “Bonne année” on New Year’s Day or “Joyeux Noël” during Christmas.
- Adapting to Local Customs: Every region in France may have its unique way of celebrating a holiday. Being open to these variations and adapting to local customs can be a rewarding experience, allowing you to see the diversity within French culture.
- Building Relationships: Holidays are a time when people come together. This can be an excellent opportunity for foreigners to socialize with neighbors and make new friends. Sharing the joy of a holiday can foster a sense of community and belonging.
- Participating in Community Events: Many towns and cities organize events around holidays. Volunteering for these events or simply attending them can help you connect with the community and build a local network.
Respecting and Enjoying the Differences
- Respect for Traditions: While engaging with French holidays, it’s important to show respect for the traditions and practices associated with them, even if they are different from those in your home country.
- Enjoying the Experience: Embracing French holidays should be enjoyable. Allow yourself to be immersed in the experience, enjoy the festivities, and appreciate the cultural richness they offer.