14th of July, celebrating the storming of the Bastille and the Fête de la Fédération

If you’re interested in French culture, you probably know there’s something going on around the 14th of July. Maybe you have watched on television the famous military parade that takes place every year on the Champs-Elysées, in Paris. Or maybe you have seen with your own eyes the traditional flypast, during the day, and then, at night, the fireworks that are shot from the Eiffel Tower. However, July, 14th is a national holiday so fireworks, balls and celebrations actually take place all over France and not only in Paris. But, do you know exactly what are those celebrations for ? Let’s have an insight into what is called, in English, “Bastille Day” !

In 1789, there were two reasons for the atmosphere of fear and insecurity that reigned on July, 14th in France. The first reason is that Necker, a French minister who was truly appreciated by the people, had just been dismissed by Louis XVI; only a few days before being dismissed, he had called the States-General, an assembly that was called when there were important crisis. The second reason to that atmosphere was that soldiers were surrounding Paris. This situation led to many Parisians setting their eyes on Les Invalides, where they could get arms.Then, they headed to the Bastille fortress in search for munitions. During the afternoon of the 14th of July, these Parisians stormed and destroyed the Bastille, a major symbol of royal power.

Starting from that point, the National Guard troops started creating fédérations, associations where they joined together. The commander-in-chief of the National Guard of France, La Fayette, suggested that there should be a national celebration of this federation movement taking place in the whole country and that this celebration should happen on the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. La Fayette’s suggestion was accepted by the National Assembly and, on July, 14th of 1790, a military parade composed of thousands of “fédérations” troops occurred in Paris. This celebration called Fête de la Fédération lasted for a few days.

Despite the euphoria reigning during this Fête de la Fédération, it stopped being celebrated that way for almost a century, for two reasons. The first one is that the events happening on the 14th of July weren’t planned to be mass gathering. The other reason is that July, 14th stopped being considered as an important date. For example, for a few years starting on 1804, it was August, 15th, date of birth of Napoleon I, that was considered as a date worth celebrating. It’s not until the 1870s that we’ll start considering again the 14th of July as a date of matter. Then, it’s on July, 6th of 1880, that the 14th of July was officially and legally made national day of France.

So, on July, 14th of 1790, France actually celebrated its national unity on the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille but, for the years after 1790, the purpose was to celebrate this so called Fête de la Fédération of 1790 ! However, it’s the storming of the Bastille that is usually considered as the major reason for 14th of July celebrations. But 14th of July of both 1789 and 1790 were important days for France and that’s why this date is now a symbol.


Read this article in: Français, Eesti,

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