As every country in the world, France as its own national day and anthem. The French National Day, also known as Bastille Day in English, is celebrated on July 14th since 1880 and is the most popular celebration in France. The French National anthem, known as La Marseillaise, became official in 1795. But what are both French symbols really about? If you haven’t wrapped your head around these two yet, let’s see some historic facts and try to understand the meaning of the Marseillaise’s lyrics.
French National Day: history
Even though the French National Day is only celebrated as such since 1880, it is actually based on one of the most important dates of the French Revolution that started 1789 and ended ten years later in 1799. The date actually refers to the 14th July of 1789, when the French people took the Bastille (La prise de la Bastille) and the Absolute Monarchy was abolished.
“La prise de la Bastille” – Extrait du film La Révolution Française
There are several movies and documentaries that relate the history of the French Revolution, and one of them is La Révolution Française, produced in 1989 and directed by Robert Enrico and Richard Heffron. For those who want to learn more about what happened during that period, the movie is almost 360 minutes long, separated in two parts, and the history is very well explained. You might recognize one of the most popular French actors, François Cluzet, who played in the movie Intouchables in 2011.
French National Day: nowadays traditions
More than two hundred years after the French Revolution, the celebration still goes on and is more or less the same. In the morning of the French National Day, military parades take place on the well known Avenue des Champs Élysées, and in the most important cities of the country. At night, impressive fireworks accompanied with music are thrown from the Eiffel Tower in Paris, thousands of people gather around the monument to get to see the show, while all other cities also have their own (sometimes on July 13th). Afterwards, lots of bals are organized and the most famous ones are the firemen bals (Le bal des pompiers).
Bal des pompiers – Villeurbanne de la Doua
The night of July 14th is one of the very few nights (along with December 31 and June 21) during which people are allowed to make noise, as long as it does not cause any kind of public trouble or damage. People are also allowed to buy fireworks and use them, but it is becoming more and more difficult each year because of the damages caused in the past years.
French National Anthem: La Marseillaise
La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, was created in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, following the war declaration of France against Austria. The original version of the song consists of six verses, plus one named the “children’s verse” (le couplet des enfants), but only the first one and the chorus are sung in popular events. Generally, only this part of the Marseillaise is teached to pupils in school, but some of the lyrics that sound quite violent still provoke controversy.
“Allons enfants de la Patrie
“Arise children of the fatherland
Aux armes citoyens
“To arms citizens