In France, our “Fête Nationale” (national holiday) is celebrated on July 14. It commemorates “la Prise de la Bastille” which occurred on July, 14, 1789, during the French Revolution. The Bastille, a medieval fortress and prison in Paris, was captured by insurgents, marking the beginning of the revolution. Every year since then, the “Fête de la Féderation” has been celebrated throughout entire country, honoring the French Revolution and the creation of a new national government.
I remember during my childhood in the South of France, this special public holiday always came in the midst of the very hot summer, when cicadas were everywhere. My grandparents routinely sat in front of the television all morning long, watching the military parade on the Champs Elysees, the solemn President of the Republic and his government, all the troops and soldiers, the playing of “La Marseillaise” (the National Anthem), and the colorful flyby with French Air Force… I couldn’t wait for the evening to come! I was always excited for the “bal populaire” in the center of my little town. It was an evening of music, dances, firecrackers, candyfloss and finally, huge fireworks.
A few years later, when I lived in Paris, celebrating this day was always the biggest event of the summer, especially the incredible fireworks above the Tour Eiffel and the ecstatic crowd looking on! I discovered the “Bal des Pompiers” (Firefighter’s Ball), parties organized at Paris fire stations where you can enjoy music, drinks and the Parisian spirit with friends.
For a few years following my arrival in Indiana, Bastille Day was wonderfully organized in Fortville and was very popular among the Hoosiers. After a short hiatus, the Bastille Day celebration will return this year!
Now, after five years in the United States, I can compare our two national day celebrations. After my first 4th of July, I was so impressed. I could see patriotism everywhere: on t-shirts, flags, music, decorations — I was overwhelmed at first because French people are not patriots in the same way. We don’t put flags anywhere (except maybe in a soccer match…Anywhere else would almost be tacky. Sometimes I would love French people to be more openly patriotic!), we don’t sing la Marseillaise with hand on heart, our veterans are not honored in the same compassionate way American people appreciate. But in some ways, our holidays are the same. People are so happy to be reunited, celebrating with all their heart, honoring an historic moment.
On the evening of July 14 last year in Nice, a terrorist attack killed 86 people and injured more than 400 others. It is awful to think that this day of joy and celebration could be now a day of deep mourning and horror. However, France will not be defined by this act of violence; we will continue to be as resilient as those we celebrate on Bastille Day.
I am also deeply confident in French people and our ability to get together again and again to celebrate our country and freedom, on Bastille Day and every other day.
Bon 14 Juillet, Happy Bastille Day!
By Adeline Le Floch Mezin, Festival Fund Review Committee Member