Christmas lights leading to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Save the Date! 16 Holidays in French for Celebrating Like a Local

Imagine waking up one morning in the mood to have a shopping spree at Galeries Lafayette, or maybe you just need to pop out to the bakery for a baguette.

You roll out of bed, get ready and head out the door—only to realize that it’s Bastille Day, and everything is closed.

When you’re planning your move to France, or even just a vacation, you’ll want to take French holidays into consideration. But don’t just avoid them, each of them can provide a unique cultural experience.

Don’t sweat the details, because I’ve put together a handy primer on French holidays that’ll be all you need to prepare.

Here are the quintessential 16 French holidays, when they occur and what to expect for each.

Contents

The Most Important Holidays in French

Le Jour de ‘An — New Year’s Day

January 1

On this holiday—and after midnight the night before—you can find French people out enjoying fireworks and champagne. They’ll likely be saying Bonne année! (Happy New Year) to one another at big midnight feasts known as réveillon, parties whose name comes from the verb réveiller (to wake up).

Besides a large meal involving pancakes or foie gras, there will also be dancing and possibly a kiss under the mistletoe.

La Fête des Rois — Epiphany

January 6

This holiday honors the story of the Three Wise Men from the East, who were guided by a star to visit the newly born Jesus, bringing gifts in tow.

On this day, French people enjoy eating an elaborate cake called a galette de roi (king cake), which contains a secret: a special charm called a fève (bean) concealed inside the cake. The person who finds it gets to be king or queen for the day!

Vendredi saint — Good Friday

Friday before Easter

Good Friday is a religious holiday that honors the crucifixion of Jesus. In France, the holiday is marked by religious services, including processions and the reading of the “Passion of the Christ.”

Traditionally, Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence in France, and many people choose to refrain from eating meat.

Pâques  — Easter

First Sunday after spring equinox

In France, Easter is a time for family gatherings and feasting. One of the most popular Easter traditions is the decoration of Easter eggs, which are often dyed in bright colors. These eggs are then hidden for children to find in a game called chasse aux œufs (egg hunt).

Another well loved tradition is the baking of a sweet bread called pain de Pâques (Easter bread). This bread is often shaped like a lamb or a cross, and is often flavored with orange blossom or lavender water.

Lundi de Pâques — Easter Monday 

Monday after Easter

This holiday is also known as la journée des œufs (the day of eggs).

In rural parts of France, there are traditions that involve cracking or tapping decorated eggs together as a sign of friendship or good luck.

In some regions, there are also Easter Monday parades and processions, featuring floats, music, and traditional costumes.

La Fête de Travail  — Labor Day

May 1

Also known as May Day, this holiday honors working people and labor organizations.

The day is typically marked by rallies that focus on issues such as workers’ rights, employment opportunities and social justice.

Another important tradition associated with the holiday is the giving of muguet (lily-of-the-valley flowers). It’s common to offer small bouquets of these fragrant flowers to friends as a symbol of good luck.

La fête de la victoire  — Victory in Europe Day

May 8

On this day in 1945, Charles de Gaulle announced the surrender of Germany and the end of World War II in Europe.

In France, it’s both a joyous and a somber holiday, as French citizens celebrate their freedom while simultaneously mourning the effects of the long war and the Nazi occupation.

Schools and businesses are closed on this holiday, which is commemorated with patriotic parades and church services.

Jour de l’Ascension — Ascension Day

40 days after Easter

A holiday to mark Jesus’s ascension into heaven, in France this holiday is often a day for outdoor activities and family gatherings. 

One popular activity on this holiday is montée de la colline (hill climbing), which is hiking to the top of a nearby hill or mountain. 

Lundi de Pentecôte — Whit Monday

Seventh Monday after Easter

In France, this is a day for relaxation and outdoor activities. In some regions, there are also local festivals and fairs, featuring music, food and traditional activities.

One unique tradition associated with the holiday is the Pentecôte à Vélo (Pentecost by Bike) event. This involves organized bike rides through the countryside or urban areas, with stops at local landmarks.

La Fête des Mères  — Mother’s Day

Last Sunday in May

Back in the 19th century, there was a movement to encourage more mothers to have large families in light of France’s declining population. That event led to this holiday for celebrating mothers.

Mothers of more than eight children are eligible to receive an honorary Médaille de la Famille” (family medal) each year on Mother’s Day.

And as in English-speaking countries, it’s traditional for children to honor their mothers on this day with handmade gifts and cards.

Shops will be open today.

Fête des Pères — Father’s Day

Third Sunday in June

On this day, French children celebrate their fathers by presenting them with adorable homemade gifts.

Interestingly, Father’s Day in France as it’s known today was founded in 1949 by a company called Flaminaire to promote their cigarette lighters.

Father’s Day isn’t a public holiday, so you’ll still find businesses with normal Sunday hours.

La fête nationale — Bastille Day

July 14  

On this date in 1789, the storming of a French prison called the Bastille occurred, which triggered the French Revolution.

No matter where you are in France, there will be parades and fireworks. The largest and most renowned of these takes place along the Champs-Élysées in Paris. It’s widely considered to be the largest military parade in Europe.

This is the national holiday of France, so you should expect all businesses to be closed as almost everyone takes the day off to celebrate.

L’assomption de Marie —  Assumption Day

August 15

This holiday celebrates the Catholic tradition of the Virgin Mary going to heaven. 

It’s considered a “Holy Day of Obligation,” meaning that any devout Catholic is expected to attend mass on this day.

One popular tradition is visiting Lourdes, where it’s believed a young girl named Bernadette saw a vision of Mary way back in 1858.

La Toussaint — All Saint’s Day

November 1

This is the day when the French people honor the memory of deceased relatives, as well as Catholic saints.

The celebration actually begins the night before on All Hallow’s Eve, coinciding with Halloween.

People celebrate by visiting the graves of their loved ones to leave flowers (usually chrysanthemums) or lighting candles.

L’armistice de la Première Guerre Mondiale — Armistice Day

November 11

This is a solemn holiday of remembrance for those who lost their lives in World War I, as well as other wars throughout history.

It marks the date in 1918 when a treaty was signed between Germany and the Allied forces, putting an end to World War I.

Church services and military parades are common ways of celebrating this holiday. Wreaths are laid at war monuments throughout the country, especially at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Le Noël — Christmas

December 25

On this holiday, many people decorate Christmas trees with lights and ornaments, or set up nativity scenes depicting the birth of Jesus in a manger.

People also exchange gifts or attend one of the many Christmas markets throughout France. The markets have handmade crafts, local foods and festive entertainment. They’re often held in historic town squares, adding to the magical atmosphere of Christmas in France.

In some parts of France, the celebrations actually begin with St. Nicholas Day on December 6.

 

And there you have it—the complete list of holidays in French you need to plan and prepare for before taking a trip.

With this handy guide, get ready to celebrate and embrace all that French culture has to offer.

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