What Is Bastille Day and Why Do We Celebrate It?

In France, the storming of the Bastille changed the course of history, heralding in a new era, and ending a long reign of royal tyranny. Here's how and why Bastille Day started, and what it means to France today.

When is Bastille Day?

Bastille Day takes place on July 14th each year. It is celebrated in France, and around the world.

What is Bastille Day?

In France, Bastille Day is known as la Fête Nationale, or le 14 Juillet. It is similar in feeling to America’s Fourth of July, and has liberation from tyranny at it’s root. Bastille Day honors and celebrates the uprising of everyday French citizens in 1789 against its monarchy, which was led at that time by King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette (of “let them eat cake” fame). Like May Day, Bastille Day has the rights of citizens and workers at its root.

How did Bastille Day start?

America and France have a long relationship, which started during our own Revolutionary War. Motivated by a desire to diminish England’s power, Louis XVI helped fund the war chests of the American colonies. This spending was part of a callous pattern of extravagance by the Royals, whose own subjects were starving, unemployed, and increasingly discontent.

France’s citizenry was suffering. In desperation, a large mob of angry revolutionists stormed the Bastille in Paris, a large, military prison, surrounded by moats and 100-feet high walls. In addition to prisoners, the Bastille contained vast amounts of much-coveted supplies, such as food and gunpowder. The Bastille was also a hated symbol of France’s monarchy. Its destruction signaled the beginning of the French Revolution, and the end of Louis XVI’s reign.

How is Bastille Day celebrated today?

Bastille Day is a public holiday, earmarked by parties, parades, and jubilation. Magnificent firework displays can often be seen in the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower and near Montparnasse. Place de la Bastille, a public park located where the Bastille once stood, fills with elaborately-costumed dancers and revelers on the eve of Bastille Day each year, where they listen to live music and dance the night away. On July 14th, a vast, well-attended military parade takes place near the Arc de Triomphe.

If you can’t get to Paris this July 14th, you can enjoy Bastille Day festivities in many locations, including New Orleans, which has a rich, French heritage. Francophiles worldwide can also indulge in French delicacies that don’t include French fries, or in other “French” things that aren’t actually from France.

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Corey Whelan
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer and reproductive health professional who has worked with infertility patients and adopting parents for over 25 years. Her work has been featured in multiple media outlets, including Reader’s Digest, The Healthy, Healthline, CBS Local, and Berxi. Follow her on Twitter @coreygale.