In some cases historical revolutions lead to yearly celebrations culminating in fireworks, parades, picnics, and other celebrations. The American Revolution led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In the United States we celebrate that event every 4th of July. The French Revolution also led to a holiday but in this case the holiday celebrates the heroics and the power of the people as they destroyed a symbol of France’s rulers. France’s La Fete National or The National Holiday is known as Bastille Day in English speaking countries. This national holiday, celebrated on July 14th, commemorates the storming of the Bastille in 1789. Celebrations in France include a military parade that has taken place since 1880. The largest military parade in Europe find French military personnel and the military participants from other countries marching along the Champs-Elysees.
What was the French Bastille and why was it destroyed? Simply, it was a military fortress and a prison. Although Louis XV locked up those who disagreed or angered him in the Bastille but by the time of his grandson's reign in 1789 the prison only held a handful of prisoners. However, it had something much more important to the revolutionaries who had just acquired guns. It stored gunpowder.
The French Revolution was a time of economic depression suffered by France’s citizens with no relief from their leaders, the privileged and out of touch Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Modern people wrongly ascribe the harsh, sentiment “let them eat cake” with France’s queen as proof of her cluelessness about the plight of ordinary citizens. Although she didn't actually utter that phrase, the actions of the monarchy negatively affected the citizens and the storming of the Bastille led to the end of the Bourbon monarchy and the execution of the King and Queen which in turn ushered in the French Republic. The Bastille was destroyed and souvenirs of it were shown throughout France as a symbol of the destruction of the Bourbon monarchy.
Interestingly enough, Bastille Day isn’t just a holiday celebrated in France. It’s also celebrated in other parts of the world including the United States who benefitted from France’s financial backing during it’s own fight for independence from Britain. In 2018, the bilingual website France-Amerique counted 150 events in the United States celebrating Bastille Day. These celebrations included food, music, and all things French. This Bastille Day I’ll be near San Francisco where they have been celebrating the holiday for 139 years and have a website dedicated to that yearly celebration.. This year’s festivities include French food, a car show, live music and events.
Take a few minutes to Google a major city near you and the phrase “Bastille Day.” Chances are you may find a celebration near you. If you'd rather celebrate from home, consider a family get-together that includes some French inspired Bastille Day recipes.
Learn more about your French ancestry in these Legacy genealogy classes.