Bastille day, as the anglophones call it, does not actually exist in France, the 14th of July is better known as “Fête nationale” or “le 14 juillet”.
It is celebrated on the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille; a medieval fortress, armoury and political prison, which occurred on the 14th of July 1789. Although it contained only 7 inmates at the time of the storming, for the riotous group of revolutionaries that stormed it, it became a symbol of the abuse of power by the monarchy, and the true populist uprising in France. The successful pushback against the ruling aristocratic elites became the catalyst of the French revolution and spread ideas of enlightenment throughout the continent.
It was declared a national holiday in 1880, the ’14 juillet’ honours the events that shaped present day France. Today, Francophones around the world celebrate the holiday, touting French culture and the ideals of liberté (freedom). From Europe’s oldest parade to the largest Bastille Day celebration in North America.
It is even celebrated right here in South Africa, in the tiny town of Franschhoek, Western Cape. The grounds of the Franschhoek Huguenot Monument host the town’s two-day annual Bastille Festival (https://www.franschhoekbastille.co.za). Villagers and visitors wear red, white, and blue, and participate in a weekend of events including a minstrel parade, barrel rolling competitions, and live music. The entire event is, of course, made even more lively by a steady supply of wine, cheese, and food (it couldn’t be called a French event without some good wine)!
So we wish you all a joyeux 14 juillet from all of us at the Alliance Française de Pretoria!