Planning to visit France in 2019? Get the most out of your experience! Learn here about the most important holidays in France - fast and easy with FrenchPod101!
|January 6, 2019||Epiphany|
|February 2, 2019||Candlemas Day|
|March 4, 2019||Grandmother’s Day|
|March 8, 2019||International Women’s Day|
|April 14, 2019||Palm Sunday|
|April 22, 2019||Easter Monday|
|May 1, 2019||May Day|
|May 10, 2019||Annual Day of Remembrance of Slavery|
|May 10, 2019||Ascension Day|
|May 25, 2019||Neighbor’s Day|
|May 27, 2019||Mother’s Day|
|June 9, 2019||Pentecost|
|June 21, 2019||Music Day|
|July 14, 2019||Bastille Day|
|August 15, 2019||Assumption Day|
|September 15, 2019||European Heritage Days|
|November 1, 2019||All Saints’ Day|
|November 11, 2019||Armistice Day|
|December 26, 2019||St. Stephen’s Day|
How well do you know holidays in France?
In this article, you learn all about the top France holidays and the traditions and history behind them. Check the must-know French vocabulary for popular holidays in France too!
That way, you can easily talk about French holidays while improving your vocabulary and overall speaking skills. You will pick up key vocab, phrases, and cultural insights you won’t find in a textbook.
Perfect for any student interested in learning more about French culture. We will teach you the what, why, when and how of France holidays.
French people have a particular dessert on January 6 to celebrate Epiphany (Épiphanie).
For Christians, Epiphany celebrates the encounter of the three Magi Kings, Gaspard, Melchior, and Balthazar, with the Son of God, Jesus. This is why the French use the expression tirer les rois or manger une galette des Rois, meaning “Eat the Epiphany cake,” when they eat the dessert.
What’s special about the galette des Rois is that it contains a lucky charm in the shape of a little figurine, (fève). The charm is hidden in the galette and the person who finds it in their piece becomes a king or a queen for the day.
Forty days after Christmas, French people celebrate Candlemas (Chandeleur) and eat crêpes, a dessert made of a very thin layer of flour dough.
The Romans used to worship the god Pan by waving torches all night long. In 472, Pope Gelasius I decided to Christianize the holiday. Religious people would worship Jesus instead by lighting candles.
French people make crêpes because at this time of the year, winter planting would begin. Peasants would use their excess flour to make crêpes. Also, with their round shape and golden color, they reminded people of the sun.
In France, Grandmother’s Day (Fête des grands-mères) is an annual holiday celebrated on the first Sunday in March by grandchildren (petits-enfants) in honor of their grandmothers.
Grandmother’s Day has a purely commercial origin. It was created by a brand of coffee called “Grandmother’s Day” in 1987. Since then, in France, our foremothers have been celebrated on the first Sunday of March. Throughout the years, the holiday has become more and more popular, leading to workshops in schools and promotional campaigns.
International Women’s Day, which takes place on March 8 each year, is celebrated in France much the same way it is throughout the world. The French seek to ensure equality, by giving women the same rights as men, and celebrate the power of women.
Palm Sunday is, essentially, the commemoration of when Jesus Christ rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, also called his Triumphal Entry. In France, this is called Dimanche des Rameaux and is celebrated by using Box-tree twigs, as that plant is common in this region. These twigs are used during the Palm Sunday Mass, where they’re blessed at one of the churches before the Mass moves on to the second church where The Passion is proclaimed. During this time, chanting is also common.
In 1905, a law was created to separate Church and State. Still, many public holidays and traditions in France have Catholic origins, and one of the most important Catholic holidays is Easter. The date of Easter changes every year. It must fall on a Sunday between March 22 and April 25. The Monday following this Sunday is a public holiday called Lundi de Pâques.
Labor Day (Fête du Travail) is the only mandatory non-working paid public holiday in France. Neither the bus nor the metro run, and all stores are closed. Only a few essential centers, such as hospitals, stay open. This date was chosen to honor Chicago’s May 1, 1886 movement, in which first unions, then workers, went on strike in order to be granted an eight-hour work day. It was in 1947 that May 1 became a paid public holiday in France.
French people celebrate the abolition of slavery on this day.
In the sixteenth century, the colonization of the New World called for new labor needs, so Europeans brought slaves in from Africa (Afrique). With the revolution, deputies of the Convention abolished slavery once to stop revolts in the West Indies colonies. But General Napoléon Bonaparte repealed this measure and legalized slavery again on May 20, 1802. French people had to wait until the Republican fervor of the Revolution of February 1848, for slavery to be completely abolished in mainland France as well as Overseas Territories.
On the Annual Day of the Memory of Slavery, several memorial events take place in mainland France and the Overseas Territories.
Ascension Thursday (Jeudi de l’Ascension) is a Catholic holiday celebrated in France forty days after Easter (Pâques). It marks the rise, or Ascension, of Jesus Christ to Heaven after His resurrection.
Ascension Thursday is only separated from the weekend by Friday, so many French people make (le pont), meaning “the bridge,” by taking a day off on Friday to get a four-day weekend. Many French companies give one extra day off to their employees. Many French people take trips during this time and visit other parts of France or Europe.
Neighbor’s Day (Fête des Voisins) is also called Immeubles en fête, which means “Building Party.” It’s because the first event was organized inside a building in Paris. This idea was born in 1990 when a group of friends created an association called Paris d’amis meaning “Paris of Friends” in the seventeenth district of the French capital. They wanted to strengthen the ties between people living in the neighborhood and fight isolation.
Parties are organized in buildings, houses, gardens, and so on. Anyone can organize a party, and anyone can participate. Each guest brings something to drink or eat. This initiative lets neighbors meet and get to know the other people who live in the neighborhood better.
Mother’s Day (Fête des Mères) has existed since Ancient Greece. The Greeks would organize springtime ceremonies in honor of Rhea (Rhéa), the Grandmother to the gods, and Zeus’s mother. A Roman religious holiday also celebrated mothers on March 1 during Matronalia.
Starting in kindergarten (école maternelle), French children create jewelry and write poems for their mothers. When children grow up, they give them bouquets of flowers or perfume.
Pentecost (Pentecôte) is a public holiday and a Christian holiday celebrated in France fifty days after Easter.
The Feast of the Pentecost is very old. The Israelites celebrated it on the occasion of the harvest and in memory of the Tablets of Law (Tables de la Loi) given to Moses, and the Jews still celebrate it. Christians commemorate the arrival of the Holy Spirit (Esprit saint) to the apostles fifty days after the Resurrection.
On June 21, French people celebrate Music Day. They go to concerts or play instruments in the street however they like. Music Day was created in 1982 by the Ministry of Cultural Affairs (Ministère de la Culture). The idea originally came from the American musician Joel Cohen, who was working for a French radio station at the time. He wanted bands to play on the evening of June 21, the first day of summer.
Usually, bars and restaurants are supposed to close at around half-past midnight. But on the night of Music Day, they have special permission to stay open much later. Furthermore, the date of June 21 most often corresponds to the summer solstice, which is the longest day of the year.
This holiday commemorates two events. The first is the event called Prise de la Bastille, which is the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789. The second is the Fête de la Fédération, which can be translated as “Federation Day,” created in 1790.
The celebration of July 14 has taken place since 1880. The taking of the Bastille, which happened on this day in 1789, symbolizes the beginning of the French Revolution or in French, Révolution Française.
Every year since 1880, a military parade has taken place in Paris in front of the President of the Republic (Président de la République).
At night, the French have an opportunity to party, since dances are held in most cities.
Assumption celebrates Jesus’s mother Mary (Marie) and her rise to Heaven.
In 1637, King Louis XIII wanted an heir. He asked his subjects to make a procession in every parish on August 15 so that his prayer would be granted. Because his wish was granted the following year, the holiday took on special importance. Since then, every year, religious processions have taken place in certain cities in France. For example, after Mass, pilgrims carry a statue of the Virgin Mary (Vierge Marie) in the streets around the neighborhood.
French people who are not Catholic still celebrate August 15. Fireworks are set off in many cities in France, and you can easily find dance shows (spectacles de danse) too.
On this day you can visit historic buildings and other public properties that are often closed to the public. This event also lets you visit museums (musées) at a reduced price or even for free.
The first Heritage Day was launched in 1984 by the French Ministry of Culture. After the success of the Heritage Day organized in France, several European countries decided to adopt the idea starting in 1985 to let the public discover the historical and cultural heritage of their country.
Not only do the French celebrate All Saints’ Day (Toussaint), but they also celebrate the Day of the Dead (Fête des Morts).
In the 11th century, the fifth Benedictine Abbot of Cluny (Odilon de Cluny) established the Day of All the Dead on November 2. However, the boundary between these two celebrations was never clear in the minds of French people, and gradually the Day of the Dead spilled over into All Saints’ Day. Even today, many French people think that All Saints’ Day is the Day of the Dead and not a celebration of the saints.
French people gather at the graves of those who have died in their family, even making trips for hours, far from their homes, to go take care of family tombs.
This is the date of the armistice, a convention signed by several governments in order to stop combat between their armies. It marked the end of the First World War, or in French, La Première Guerre Mondiale. The First World War was a military conflict that mostly took place in Europe between 1914 and 1918. It was a traumatic war for France because it was the most heavily affected country, and by the end 1.4-million people were dead. It ended when the English, French, and Germans signed the armistice of November 11, 1918.
On each November 11, the President of the French Republic conducts a ritual to commemorate the armistice.
St. Stephen is known as being the first Christian martyr, and as such is commemorated each year among Christians. In France, this holiday is celebrated in only sections of France, which are Alsace and Moselle.
You may ask why it is advantageous to know French holidays. There are a number of good reasons!
If you’re keen to learn French on your own, there are a number of ways to do this. Why not choose holidays as a theme? You can start by learning about the French culture, so find a video or TV program about holidays in France. Better still - find a video or program about holidays in French, and watch it a few times! That way your ear will get used to the spoken language. You could also watch French movies without subtitles, as this too will train your ear to what correct French sounds like.
If you’re more advanced in French, you can practice your writing skills by writing a letter to your French friend about the holidays video. Or write a short review of the video, and post it on social media! Imagine how impressed your friends will be!
Practice your French pronunciation, and record yourself talking about your holiday in France. Pronouncing words correctly in any language is very important, or you may find yourself saying things you don’t mean!
If you’re an absolute beginner, it would be best to start with a book, a CD series, free PDF cheat sheets and preferably your French friend who can help you. Or, you can start with FrenchPod101, for free!
Holidays in France can also be the perfect opportunity to practice your French! For the best experience, make sure to master at least Level 1 of your French lessons here on FrenchPod101 before you go on holiday to France. Then don’t be shy! Use it with every native speaker you encounter in every situation. Practicing continuously to speak a language is one of the most important habits if you want to become fluent. Or, if you’re a new subscriber to FrenchPod101 in a hurry to get to France, study Absolute Beginner French for Every Day to help you get by as a traveller - you will be surprised how far a little French can go!
FrenchPod101 is uniquely geared to help you master relevant, everyday vocabulary and phrases, pronounced correctly and in the right context - this will set you on the right track. Our courses are perfectly designed to help you in fun ways!
But do have a holiday first. Ideally you will enjoy a different culture with a visit, and enrich your life in ways you cannot imagine. Don’t wait till 2020 to learn French through FrenchPod101 though - it will open a whole new world for you!
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