There are special days and national celebrations in France almost every month. Some of them are fixed Public Holidays, some are changeable Public Holidays and some are not holidays at all but treated as special days with friends and loved ones, days when traditions are held dear. There are eleven public holidays in France every year and several more days that are honoured and celebrated nationally.
January 1 – Jour de l’An – New Year’s Day
New Year’s Eve and public holiday New Year’s Day are generally celebrated with friends and family.
January 6 – Epiphanie: Fête des Rois – Epiphany: Feast of the Kings
It is a tradition is to serve a special cake called “une galette des rois” which contains une fève (usually a porcelain figurine). The person who finds the hidden fève in their serving is named king or queen for the day and wears the paper crown sold with the galette. This day, held on 6th January, commemorates the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child.
February 2 – La Chandeleur – Candlemas
A day when traditionally crèpes are eaten, believed to have religious origins.
February 14 – La Saint Valentin – Valentine’s Day
This is the day for lovers – cards, flowers or small presents are shared with a special person.
April 1 – Poisson d’Avri l – April Fool’s Day
Practical jokes mark this day and Poisson d’avril is the expression shared following a successful tease. One explanation for this day is April 1 marks the opening day of fishing season, which was considered a bit of a joke as very few fish were to be caught so early in the season. Like the fishermen of old who attempted to catch the elusive fish, now it is customary to try to catch friends in a joke. Some say that another reason for the term poisson was a corruption of the word “passion” referring to the Easter season.
March or April – Pâques – Easter Sunday
The Christian holiday to celebrate the resurrection of Christ. A special dinner is served with a traditional dinner of lamb and chocolate is customarily given.
March or April – Le lundi de Pâques – Easter Monday
The day following Easter is a public holiday in France and time to eat your chocolate!
May 1 – Fête du Travail – Labor Day and May Day
A national holiday designated as Fête du Travail – International Labor Day. It is also May Day and includes a custom to present un brin de muguet (stem of lilies of the valley) to loved ones to bring them good luck and happiness (porter du bonheur). Read more about the Brin de Muguet.
April or May – Jour de l’Ascension – Ascension Thursday
Held 40 days after Easter to commemorate Christ’s ascension to heaven. Note this is a changeable Public Holiday.
May 8 – Jour de la Victoire 1945 – WWII Victory Day 1945
A public holiday which celebrates the end of World War II in Europe.
May or June – Pentecôte – Pentecost Sunday
Held 50 days after Easter in memory of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. Note this is a changeable Public Holiday.
May or June – Lundi de Pentecôte – Whit Monday
In 2005, the French Parliament voted to remove this holiday from the official list of public holidays. However, as a response to widespread opposition to the change, some employers retained the day as a holiday for staff. As a compromise, the government designated June 5 as a national school holiday.
May 30 – Fête des Mêres – Mother’s Day
The day to celebrate mothers everywhere in France, chocolates and flowers are the main choice for gifts.
May – Nuits des Musées – European Night of Museums
All over France thousands of museums open their doors for one night in an exceptional free opening to the public on the Saturday closest to 18 May. Many of the venues put on music, theatre, games, films and cuisine to tempt the public to venture out in the dead of night and enjoy the collection in a way not normally available.
June 20 – Fête des Pères – Father’s Day
Fathers in France are celebrated.
June 21 – Fête de la Musique – Music Festival
A celebration of the longest day of the year (first day of summer). Musicians of all sorts, both professional and amateur, line the streets of Paris and cities, towns and villages all over France to entertain enthusiastic crowds until near dawn with the joyous Fête de la Musique.
July 14 – Fête National – Bastille Day
A national holiday that commemorates the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution in 1789. An impressive military parade down the Champs Elysées and firework displays highlight this holiday. Street dances or Bals des Pompiers are hosted at fire stations by local firemen. Every town in France will celebrate Bastille Day.
August 15 – L’Assomption – Assumption of Virgin Mary
A public holiday to honour the assumption of the Blessed Mother Mary into heaven.
September – France Gourmet Week
All over France for a whole week restaurants will put on a grand show with special prices showcasing the best of their regions produce.
September – Journées Européennes du Patrimoine – European Heritage Days
Hundreds of historical buildings, famous monuments, Government sites and places of interest – some of which are normally closed to the public, open their doors and welcome in visitors.
November 1 – La Toussaint – All Saint’s Day
Public holiday to honour all saints and a day to remember the souls of the dead. A French tradition is to place chrysanthemums on the graves of departed relatives.
November 11 – Jour l’Armistice – Armistice Day (1918)
This national holiday celebrates the end of World War I in Europe, many towns in France will hold services of remembrance.
November – Beaujolais Nouveau – Festival of new wine
The new harvest of Beaujolais wine is celebrated on the third Thursday of November, released at the stroke of midnight!
December 25 – Noël – Christmas Day
This national holiday begins the evening before with the réveillon de Noel (Christmas Eve) meal and a visit by le Père Noel (Santa Claus) during the night who leaves presents under the Christmas tree – though he apparently has been known to smack naughty children in France!
December 31 – La Nuit de la Saint Sylvestre – New Year’s Eve
The feast day of Saint Sylvestre includes a festive celebration spent with friends at home or in a favourite restaurant. A kiss under the mistletoe is shared at the stroke of midnight.