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Célébrons ! Bastille Day

By July 14, 2013

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On 14 July, France celebrates its national holiday in commemoration of the storming of the Bastille prison, which took place in 1789 and marked the beginning of the French Revolution. Do you know what this event represents? Learn all about Bastille Day - in French or English - and listen to the Marseillaise.

What English speakers call Bastille Day the French call le 14 juillet or la Fête Nationale. If you want to wish French speaker a happy Bastille Day, « Bonne Bastille ! » just doesn't work; you can only say « Joyeux Quatorze Juillet ! » or simply « Bonne fête ! » However, it's not really customary to do so - when I do, the French seem a little surprised.

   + Bastille Day history, flag, and related links
   + Article sur le Quatorze Juillet
   + Bastille Day vocabulary
   + Bastille Day ideas for French teachers

Bastille Day Celebrations
   + How to celebrate à la française
   + Bastille Day in Menton
   + Bastille Day in Paris
   + How and where are you celebrating Bastille Day?


July 14, 2006 at 12:59 pm
(1) dave says:

From your article on Bastille Day:

“On the one-year anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, delegates from every region of France proclaimed their allegiance to a single national community during the Fête de la Fédération in Paris – the first time in history that a people had claimed their right to self-determination.”

Umm, July 4, 1776??????

. . . . . . . . . .

I am not a historian, but here are some sources which I feel support my claim:

Human Development Report 2000 Background Paper
In France, the ideals and principles of the Revolution were marred by the violation of human rights during the subsequent “Terror”. Nevertheless, the break with traditional ideas of the absolute rule of kings and divine right, and of privilege, rank and hierarchy, inaugurated a new period in human history. The French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen (1789) recognised fundamental individual rights and freedoms, and declared these to be the basis of government. The Declaration unleashed an unprecedented debate about the nature and scope of human rights. New ideas and movements relating to the rights of free black people, the abolition of slavery, economic and social rights, the position of women, national independence and the idea of self-determination, were born and established in this period.

On People’s Human Rights
The modern history of human rights for “the people” began with the American Independence Revolution and French Revolution. The Declaration of Independence, which was issued in July 1776, asserted the right of the people to resist, to alter or to abolish their government. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen in France, issued in August 1789, incorporated Jean Rousseau’s theory of popular sovereignty as a provision in its Article 3: “The principle of all sovereignty resides essentially in the nation.” This article is a manifestation of an oppressed citizenry’s right to self-determination in opposition against tyranny. In May 1790, French Constituent Assembly issued a series of laws related to people’s rights.

- – – – -

In my opinion, the Declaration of Independence did not explicitly state the right of the American people to self-determination; thus my claim that France was the first country to do so.

Laura K. Lawless
Learn French at About

July 13, 2011 at 5:45 pm
(2) Shannon says:

Even if the Declaration of Independence does not explicitly state it, the concept is inarguably implicit in the message. And of course you have the Federalist Papers and the US Constitution that were written before 1789 as well. So to suggest that France was the first country to explicity state the right to self-determination is pretty … well, ridiculous. I love France at least as much as the next guy, but come on…

July 14, 2011 at 4:49 pm
(3) Donald says:

The Federalist Papers were not a government policy document, but a polemical political statement about the proposed Constitution, albeit a very excellent one. The Declaration of Independence and the Declaration of the Rights of Man are more comparable and are statements of policy made by legislative bodies. Ms. Lawless’ position is not ridiculous — but it is arguable and she makes good arguments for it.

July 14, 2011 at 5:00 pm
(4) Mahon says:

I understand Iceland instituted a democracy in 930 AD… they just don’t fuss about it!

July 10, 2008 at 6:52 pm
(5) Allen says:

I just love a woman that knows here stuff! I think Laura is intellectually gorgeous! ;-)

July 11, 2008 at 10:23 am
(6) Anne says:

Why wouldn’t it be okay to say “happy bastille day” and what does the other phrase translate to? (I don’t speak french as you can tell…)

. . . . . . . . . .

What English speakers call “Bastille Day” is known as le jour de la prise de la Bastille (the day of the storming/taking of the Bastille prison) or, more commonly and simply, le Quatorze Juillet (the Fourteenth of July). So it doesn’t make sense to just literally translate “Happy Bastille Day” into Bonne Bastille – it would be kind of like saying “Happy Sing Sing” or “Happy Alcatraz.” :-O

Laura K. Lawless
Learn French at About

July 11, 2008 at 10:26 am
(7) Nick Greene says:

Well, I say Joyeux Quatorze Juillet to everyone. Let’s go raid a prison.

July 11, 2008 at 10:28 am
(8) Megan Romer says:

I always find it mildly amusing when people complain about the violence factor of the “Star-Spangled Banner”. Though I’m not a fan of bombs bursting in air either, our national anthem has NOTHING on the Marseillaise, in terms of sheer violence. In fact, it’s so over-the-top that I find it kind of funny.

July 11, 2008 at 10:39 am
(9) Connie G. says:

Do people decorate for Bastille Day like Americans do for the Fourth of July?

. . . . . . . . . .

No, not at all. There are some flags and banners around town that were put up by the city, but I haven’t seen a single person wearing blue-white-red, or any flags on houses. Generally speaking, the French are far less patriotic than Americans.

Laura K. Lawless
Learn French at About

July 11, 2008 at 12:35 pm
(10) elaine Lemm says:

I remember celebrating Bastille Day when I lived in France. The village near where I lived always had a huge picnic that went through well into the evening and finished with a huge fireworks display. I loved it and looked forward to it every year. The nearest we have here in the UK is Bonfire night.

July 11, 2008 at 1:24 pm
(11) Susan Adcox says:

My husband, who is a bit of a history buff, tells me that many of those who stormed the Bastille were women, fishmongers and the like. Is that true?

July 11, 2008 at 3:17 pm
(12) Nancy says:

I think women played a large role in the events leading up to 14 July. They were very angry about the high cost of bread, for one thing.

July 12, 2008 at 1:31 am
(13) Jennifer says:

That looks like fun. I might just look up the festivities with my family. They’re in town on Bastille day and that could be an interesting excursion for all of us. Thanks!

July 12, 2008 at 3:17 pm
(14) Wendy says:

Know how I first learned about Bastille Day? From reading “A Tale of Two Cities” and “The Count of Monte Cristo”. I had SUCH the crush on the Count – sigh!

July 12, 2009 at 6:06 am
(15) taffazull says:

By one of the rare coincidences of history it was on 13th July 1931 that a chance provocation led the people of Kashmir to attack the CENTRAL JAIL of the feudal ruler the MAHARAJAH demanding democratic rights for the Kashmiris.Led by Sheikh Abdullah the people forced the Maharajah to grant this right and Kashmir became the first princely state of British India to have a democratically elected assembly. The 13th of July is every year celeberated as “Martyrs Day” in both Pakistan and Indian administered Kashmir and both Pakistan and India recognize it as a day of celebration for the people of Kashmir where it is a government holiday.

July 13, 2009 at 7:46 pm
(16) Daryl says:

somewhere in the small pacific island nation of papua new guinea, the capital city port moresby to be exact, we’re celebrating Bastille Day at the university of papua new guinea even though we were colonised by australians and stuff like that. the university along with the french embasy and the alliance fracaise de port moresby have come together to celebrate the french national day… should be interesting….

July 14, 2009 at 4:37 am
(17) Maddy says:

Thank-you. Your Bastille knowledge was helpful to wish my French teacher a happy day! Thanks and I hope this helps others!

July 14, 2009 at 7:52 am
(18) dusty says:

Time for my traditional Bastille Day joke:

Marie Antoinette’s last words:
“ICE CREAM! I said, let them eat cake and ICE CREAM!”

July 14, 2009 at 11:50 am
(19) West says:

I disagree with the idea that the French lack patriotism. I was in Paris for Bastille Day five years ago and was impressed by the magnificent celebration, with everyone coming together and enjoying themselves, without much in the way of violence/negativity (despite many people celebrating being very drunk). Also, I did not notice that Americans were taking over the day, but this may be because I was part of a group of bilingual students from Canada. Bastille Day really is unlike any holiday I have ever experienced in North America!

July 14, 2009 at 4:12 pm
(20) Terri says:

West — how did people celebrate it. You make it sound fabulous but could you give some specifics because I would love to be there to experience it myself and that would be the next best thing?

July 16, 2009 at 9:29 am
(21) Poly says:

And yet all my French friends, including those at the French Consul! say just that in order to shorten Bonne fête de la Bastille à la belle France. Go figure.

July 17, 2009 at 10:22 am
(22) Sue says:

I enjoyed this post about Bastille day. As an American living in France (Bordeaux) with my French hubby, I was again able to celebrate Bastille day this week. Because of that American urge to say “Happy… of July!!” I am always tempted to say “joyeux 14 juillet !” But as Laura said, a bit of observation made me calm down, realize I was about the only person that had that urge, and just keep my exclamation to myself. :) I’ve noticed people mostly enjoy taking advantage of the day to get outside, spend time with family friends, eat GOOD food :) and end the day with good ol’ fireworks. Yay for Bastille day!!

July 14, 2010 at 7:49 pm
(23) trueblue says:

We lived in France for a few years when I was very little, I really thought it was amazing the french were celebrating my mum’s birthday. Later she made sure we knew what was really the special day as we are of french canadian descent.

June 2, 2011 at 5:07 pm
(24) green goblin says:

what do the french eat on bastille day?

June 9, 2011 at 12:29 pm
(25) Pierre says:

Frog legs a la Provencal plus anything they want.

July 14, 2011 at 2:21 am
(26) Mark Kearney says:

When I was growing up in the 1960′s in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, we always knew when it was Bastille Day, because there were so many French flags flying from houses along Clifton Boulevard, the largest street in town.

July 13, 2012 at 1:50 pm
(27) John says:

“the French are far less patriotic than Americans”

Please do not confuse flag waving with patriotism. The French are far more patriotic than Americans. We wave our flags and declare this the greatest nation in the world while accepting legislation that impinges our civil liberties and denies many of us our basic human rights. The greatest irony in US politics is “The Patriot Act.” Arguably the least patriotic act of legislation in our history. (Having lived in France for two years, I am absolutely certain that the Bastille would have been stormed again, figuratively speaking, if similar legislation passed in France.) Dissent when government goes awry is the highest form of patriotism, but in America we get arrested for it, or at the very least, denied passage on an airplane.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité – Too many of my fellow Americans have a lot to learn about this concept.

July 14, 2012 at 8:43 am
(28) Maninder says:

So, what is the moral of the story? While writing a mail to a person sitting in France, do we write Bonne Fete or is it derofatory to say that?
I ask that as you say that they seem surprised when anybody wishes them so.


. . . . . . . . . .

No, it certainly isn’t derogatory, it just isn’t done. It’s kind of like, I don’t know, wishing someone a happy Memorial Day. Yes, it’s an important holiday, but people don’t normally wish one another “Happy Memorial Day!” like they do “Happy 4th of July!”

Laura K. Lawless
Learn French at About

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