Bastille Day is France’s main national holiday, and it’s on the 14th of July each year. It dates back to the French Revolution – on that day, the people of Paris stormed the Bastille prison, freeing some political prisoners that were kept there by the King. The moral of this story is that the French people fought against the horrible rule of their monarchy, and eventually managed to get rid of them – and Bastille Day celebrates the beginning of modern France as we know it.
So as you can imagine, Paris was full of fun and festivity on the big day. Think Royal Wedding, but without the royalty (which would rather defeat the point). I was lucky enough to be there to see it all in its full glory. The first thing I saw that day were the military planes doing flights over the city, whilst the tanks and missile-carrying vehicles drove past me on the streets below. The crowds cheered the French Army, who in return appeared to be having a rather fun time. It was nice to see, but as a foreigner (especially one from England), I couldn’t help but feel just a little bit intimidated.
Paris’ most famous road, the Champs-Elysee, was also closed to traffic. The President of France, Francois Hollande, did a speech in front of the Arc de Triomphe, there were more military parades, and bands were playing traditional marching songs. Oddly enough, those included “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”, which is a British song written in the First World War era.
Paris was busy as per usual, but the only things outside the main tourist hub that suggested it was an important day was that all the shops were closed. Walking around the artists’ area Montmatre, you may not have known it was the most important day on the French calendar. This is because the big show really began in the evening. There was a big concert in the Champs de Mars, the park where the Eiffel Tower is located. It reached its climax at the end, when a choir sung a very moving rendition of the French national anthem – La Marseillaise.
The real highlight of the day were the fireworks. It was certainly the most jaw-dropping fireworks display I’ve ever seen, mainly because I’ve only ever seen my local ones on a Thursday night. Still, that doesn’t reduce the impression made by this display, which was over half an hour long. The tower first appeared in the colours of the French flag, but it burst into life and colour when the music started playing. Each section of the fireworks had a different vibe, timing and pattern, fitting in with the backing music. One section was based on African music, another one classical French music, and there was even one based on Adele’s song “Skyfall”. Considering James Bond is a very British thing, I chuckled a little bit, but the finale of the display made me feel like I wanted to be French.
That’s how you know your national celebrations were fantastic – and I’m sure it wasn’t just me who left the celebrations wishing I was the right nationality!
Photo credit: Alice Barnes-Brown