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Lesson Transcript

Virginie: Bonjour à tous!
Eric: Eric here. Top Five Dates During the Calendar Year.
Virginie: Today our lesson will be about national holidays in France, yay!
Eric: Wow!
Virginie: I love Holidays!
Eric: You know, it really makes us specialists I guess.
Virginie: You are right and it is nice when your job is actually to talk about free time.

Lesson focus

Eric: So we prepared for you a list of the top five holidays in France and their celebrations.
Virginie: But before we give them out to you all, let’s have an overview of the national calendar. How many holidays does France have.
Eric: Well France has 11 “jours fériés” or holidays. On these days, schools, government institutions, banks and most companies are closed and most employees get the day off. So most of these are religious days I guess.
Virginie: Yes and some are hysterical. Let’s start with the bottom of our list. What’s the fifth most important holiday in the eyes of the French?
Eric: It’s Christmas although France is a secular country and most people still celebrate Christmas.
Virginie: For example where I come from.
Eric: Yeah you are talking about yourself again you know.
Virginie: Aren’t I the French reference in this podcast, I absolutely need to refer to myself. Anyway, I was saying that my family is a good example of how celebrating Christmas has evolved in France.
Eric: Interesting. So do you come from a religious family?
Virginie: Well that’s the thing. Most Christian families in France have a catholic tradition but very few people actively practice their religion. That’s the case with my family and Christmas has lost a lot of its substance over the years.
Eric: Hmm so it’s like more of a party with presents.
Virginie: Yeah exactly. Some people go to church on Christmas eve whereas they never go the rest of the year.
Eric: Do you go to church on Christmas Eve?
Virginie: No we stay at home and we have a huge meal with excellent foods.
Eric: Sounds pretty good.
Virginie: Some of my friends who are not religious at all still celebrate Christmas even though their family does not practice Catholicism or anything else.
Eric: By the way, Christmas in France is “Noël” and Merry Christmas is “Joyeux Noël”.
Virginie: “Joyeux Noël!” Yes and Noël is an excellent excuse to spend a lot of money on food and presents. Let’s not forget that it’s still dedicated to children, okay.
Eric: Actually Christmas is celebrated in France as much as Thanksgiving is in the US.
Virginie: Yes it’s the one day you get to see all of your family members and catch up with life.
Eric: So do French people eat a Turkey as a Christmas meal?
Virginie: Well a lot of people do. Also if you can afford it, it’s the one opportunity to gather foie gras, oysters, escargots and duck breast in the same meal. Ah escargots with Provencal herbs and champagne, liters of champagne.
Eric: Champagne!
Virginie: Yeah.
Eric: You are making me hungry and thirsty. So what’s the fourth best holiday in France?
Virginie: Well it’s right after Christmas and it’s New Year’s Eve. Happy New Year.
Eric: Bonne année. Happy New Year. How do you say New Year’s Eve in French?
Virginie: We say “le réveillon du Nouvel An” which literally means New Year’s Eve and it’s celebrated on the 31st of December.
Eric: So what’s special about France’s New Year’s Eve?
Virginie: First of all, it hasn’t always been celebrated on December 31st. That makes it quite special. You know, French people don’t like to do things just like everyone else.
Eric: Really?
Virginie: So in the 6th century before Christ, it was celebrated on March 1st. Who knows why? Then under Charlemagne the New Year officially started after Christmas. Then...
Eric: So it has kept changing. You guys just can’t make up your mind.
Virginie: Well we’ve been set for quite a while now. To make it short, it only became official worldwide when it was proclaimed by the pope in 1622.
Eric: Ah so I say there is a little bit of religion in New Year’s Eve too.
Virginie: That’s right. The goal was to have a simpler religious calendar.
Eric: Interesting. I’ve spent New Year’s Eve several times in France.
Virginie: Oh so what did you do?
Eric: I got to celebrate in the most French way.
Virginie: Oh!
Eric: You know, I had some friends prepare fine meal at their place.
Virginie: With foie gras and champagne?
Eric: Uhoo just like for Christmas and they invited a lot of friends. There was I think like 30 people in the two-bedroom apartment.
Virginie: Fun. It’s actually the most common way of celebrating the New Year.
Eric: People dress up a lot too but what really struck me.
Virginie: Yeah.
Eric: Was that the dancing party right after the dinner and they play with some music. I never heard French disco before. I got to say.
Virginie: Yeah it’s really funny when it’s American music covered in French.
Eric: Yeah.
Virginie: Yeah.
Eric: Was my New Year’s eve a typical French New Year’s Eve?
Virginie: Yeah that’s exactly what people do. They eat and drink and dance. Sometimes they go out too but it’s usually a bad idea because everything costs more on New Year’s Eve and every single public place is crowded.
Eric: In Paris though, it is pretty amazing to go to the Champs Elysées. You know you can go and open a few bottles of Champagne and scream “bonne année”, kiss everyone.
Virginie: Yeah I know and sometimes French people talk to stranger that night, you know.
Eric: No.
Virginie: Yes once a year for New Year’s Eve.
Eric: Well that’s why I had such good memories of that night.
Virginie: Yeah. But should we go on and talk about the third favorite holiday in France?
Eric: Yeah go ahead.
Virginie: Well again just like in a lot of countries, it’s mother’s day.
Eric: Mother’s day is celebrated as it should be?
Virginie: Yes in French, mother’s day is “la fête des mères” the origin of it though is pretty controversial.
Eric: Controversial why?
Virginie: Well it definitely has the same origins as anywhere else but in France, it was put on the national calendar in 1941 when Pétain became the head of the country during the German occupation.
Eric: Le Maréchal Pétain.
Virginie: Yes Pétain and the Vichy government that collaborated with the Nazis. Anyway the point is that Pétain included a mother’s day in the calendar as part of his political action to increase French birth rate.
Eric: How it is going to increase birth rates? Maybe it’s good story.
Virginie: Yeah. Well that’s the reason why some people refuse to celebrate it as a symbolic statement you know but the young generation does not even know about this story.
Eric: Well it’s a perfect day to get creative and make something for your mom, Pasta necklace. Ever gave one of those to your mom?
Virginie: I did and when I was in elementary school, the most popular gift made at school for mother’s day was a Jewel box made out of Camembert wrap. Cheese wrap.
Eric: Sounds pretty French.
Virginie: Yeah oh I forgot to tell you when it is. It takes place on the last Sunday of May although this year, it’s in June.
Eric: And besides the gifts, how do families celebrate it?
Virginie: Well they usually have a nice lunch prepared by the children and a gift distribution takes place in the afternoon. At least that’s how we did it in my family.
Eric: I write a poem for my mommy every year.
Virginie: Oh I became lazy. I send flowers.
Eric: Come on, you should be more creative. She brought you into the world you know.
Virginie: I know. I will do my best this year.
Eric: So what’s next? We are almost at the top of the list.
Virginie: Yes the second favorite holiday in France. Well it’s not exactly a holiday but it’s a celebration.
Eric: So well does that mean you celebrate but you don’t get the day off?
Virginie: Exactly and it’s called Music Day. La fête de la musique.
Eric: La fête de la musique. Would it be the celebration of music?
Virginie: Yeah and it’s celebrated in a lot of countries now but it was initiated at first by France in 1981. It was part of our Minister of Culture’s program to promote French musicians throughout the country.
Eric: And when do they take place?
Virginie: Oh I keep forgetting to give out the dates today. It’s on the 1st day of the summer, June 21st.
Eric: Nice warm day I guess.
Virginie: Yeah but let me tell you how it all works. I think it’s pretty amazing celebration. The idea was to give a chance to young musicians to perform on the streets in bars and restaurants everywhere to promote their music.
Eric: Wow so it must get pretty crowded?
Virginie: It is I think yes one of the craziest celebrations in France. There is music coming from everywhere all night long all over the streets. There are official stages of course with famous bands but there also are a lot of small dance playing everywhere.
Eric: Wow! That’s really amazing to just walk around the streets, hear some music.
Virginie: Yeah and it’s free. Everything is free.
Eric: Crucial! Excellent.
Virginie: Yeah it’s a great way to have the food industry make some income as well but as a spectator, you are lucky if you find a good spot in the bar.
Eric: Have you ever participated as a performer?
Virginie: Not me but a lot of my friends did. It’s the one day you can legally expose your talent on the street.
Eric: So after all of that, I really have a hard time imagining that that’s not the most popular celebration in France. What’s the number one?
Virginie: Well the good old Bastille Day.
Eric: Le 14 juillet!
Virginie: Yes we call it “le 14 juillet”, the 14th of July.
Eric: And that’s the day that the French celebrate over throwing the Bastille during the French revolution right?
Virginie: Correct. The Bastille was a huge jail in the center of Paris and prisoners got freed by people in an appraising but one day it became the symbol of French revolution.
Eric: So why does it get to the top of our list?
Virginie: Because there is nothing more important to a French person than keeping a revolutionary spirit.
Eric: And the other word for the French revolutionary is the “sans culotte”.
Virginie: Yeah “les sans culotte” literally means the pantless . That’s interesting. It’s the name for the people who rose up against the monarchy.
Eric: And that symbolizes the birth of the nation?
Virginie: Yeah and it’s also often celebrated throughout the world by French expatriates.
Eric: Okay and what’s a typical Bastille Day like in France?
Virginie: Well you can attend the parade for the French military forces. The president gives a speech as well and if you are in Paris, you can attend the parade. Otherwise people usually just eat.
Eric: This is like the Americans on the 4th of July?
Virginie: Yeah it is a day of food and drinks once again and like for the 4th of July, there are fireworks throughout the country.
Eric: And politicians and official guests are invited to the garden party at l’Elysée.
Virginie: Yes l’Elysée is the presidential residence. Okay I think we have covered the essentials here. Don’t forget to read the lesson notes and there are lot of insights in there.


Eric: All right excellent. That’s a very nice top 5. We should talk about more partying you know.
Virginie: I completely agree. Okay guys, thank you for listening, have a great day.
Eric: Au revoir!
Virginie: Bye bye.