Welcome to French Public Holidays
French Public Holidays
This site was born when we realised that many people were getting confused about the dates and meanings of French national and public holidays.
I suppose that I should be ashamed that in my first year living in France, I went into work twice, not knowing that there would be no work because of a bank holiday.
If only this site had been around then.....
As well as giving you the dates of the holidays, we have tried to explain the meanings and reasons for some of the Public Holidays in France. You are welcome to download PDF versions of any of these guides to print off for your personal use.
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The French enjoy 11 national jours feriés (holidays) annually.
During the month of May, there is a holiday nearly every week, so be prepared for stores, banks and museums to shut their doors for days at a time.
It is a good idea to call museums, restaurants and hotels in advance to make sure they will be open.
A time for businesses to shut-down
Most offices, businesses and shops in France will close for a Public Holiday although the smaller supermarkets in many towns will open for a couple of hours in the morning (except for on Christmas day).
Bakers will operate a limited morning service as they do on Sundays. Restaurants can be relied upon to respond to the market demand so opening will depend upon place and season. Book well in advance for Christmas day though.
Fixed dates for nearly all Public Holidays in France
With the exception of those associated with Easter, Public Holidays in France are fixed. In other words, Public Holidays do not move to attach themselves to the nearest weekend as in the UK.
However, French Public Holidays falling on a Sunday are celebrated on the following Monday with the exception of Easter Sunday and Whit Sunday, which always fall on a Sunday. No time off in lieu is granted when a Public Holiday falls on a Saturday as it is in the UK.
"Faire le pont"
When a Public Holiday falls on a Tuesday or a Thursday, it is very common to take the Friday or Monday off to create a long weekend ("faire le pont"). Many businesses, especially the smaller ones are therefore closed for the entire period, including many estate agencies.
Special Celebrations (non-national holidays)
On Epiphany (the first Sunday after January 1), many families in Provence follow a tradition of eating the gâteau des Rois - or the galette des Rois in the northern half of France and Belgium. This is a kind of king cake, with a trinket - usually a porcelain or plastic figurine of a king, or a fava bean (la fève) - hidden inside. A lucky person who gets the piece of cake containing the trinket is crowned King (or Queen) for a day.
The cakes can be found in most French bakeries during the month of January, and are accompanied by a paper crown. The galette consists of flaky puff pastry layers with a dense center of frangipane (made from or flavored like almonds), while the provençale gâteau is a crown-shaped brioche with candied fruits (fruits confits).
WW11 Victory Day (Victoire 1945) - Commemoration of the end of the Second World War (in Europe).
Ceremonies take place to remember the soldiers killed during the war. Wreaths are placed on the tomb of the unknown soldier, at the base of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and at monuments to the dead of the war, throughout France.
Ascension Day (Ascension) - 40 days after Easter, this holiday celebrates Jesus's ascension to heaven following his crucifixion and resurrection. Mass is celebrated in chruches and cathederals throughout France.
Ascension Day falls on a Thursday so many people take a day of their annual leave on Friday and so enjoy a four-day weekend. They often use the opportunity to take a short vacation.
Pentecost Day (Pentecôte) - Many Christians in France attend a special church service on Pentecost Sunday to celebrate the Holy Spirit's descent on Jesus Christ's followers. People blow trumpets during the service in some churches.
The sound reminds them of the mighty wind that blew when the Holy Spirit descended onto Jesus' followers.
Whit Monday (Lundi de Pentecôte) - Whit Monday does not hold great religious significance for many people in France in modern times, but was a public holiday until 2005 and again from 2008.
The holiday was reintroduced after about 15,000 elderly people died in a heatwave in the summer of 2003. The French government made a commitment to financially support the elderly and people with disabilities by deciding that Pentecost Monday would no longer be a public holiday from 2005 onwards. The public holiday was replaced with 'The Day of Solidarity', on this day people work for no pay.
Bastille Day (Fête Nationale) - Bastille day symbolises the end of the Monarchy and the beginning of the First Republic. It is celebrated with parties and spectacular fireworks all over France.
There is a large military parade in Paris in the morning of July 14. Service men and women from various units, including cadets from military schools, the French Navy and the French Foreign Legion, participate in the parade. The parade ends with the Paris Fire Brigade. Military aircraft fly over the parade route during the parade. The French president opens the parade and reviews the troops and thousands of people line the route. Other people spend the day quietly and eat a celebratory meal or picnic with family and close friends.
Assumption Day (Assomption) - Celebrated by Catholics throughout France, the feast commemorates the departure of Mary from this life and the assumption of her body into heaven (taken up whole without passing by the grave and the corruption of the flesh that would be implied by that.)
Regardless of religious orientation, the day is observed as a national holiday during which many shops and businesses may be closed. Many people attend church services and there is usually a grand service at Lourdes.
All Saints Day (Toussaint) - It is traditional for the French to visit the graves of their loved ones and decorate them with Chrysanthemums.
Many Christians visit special church services on All Saints' Day. All Saints' Day is also an opportunity for many people to spend time with family members and close friends. This holiday falls during the autumn (fall) school holidays, it is a popular time for families to take a short vacation or to visit relatives living in other areas.
Armistice Day (Jour de l'Armistice) - Armistice Day is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918. (Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 with the German signing of the Armistice.)
May 1st (Fête de Travail) - May 1st is a commemoration of the sucess of the American Unions in achieving an eight hour working day (in 1886.)
Manifestations are organised by the unions to celebrate and symbolise the unity of the workers.
May 1 is also La Fête du Muguet, and the tradition is to give the ones you love a little bouquet of lily-of-the-valley, for good luck and to celebrate the arrival of spring. Originally the idea was to pick your own muguet in the forest. Of course, in the city you will more likely buy it from the florist's, or better yet, from one of the countless stands that sprout up overnight on every street corner and every road in France, most of them doing this as a fundraiser for one cause or another.
Easter (Pâques) - No church bells ring in France from the Thursday before Good Friday till Easter morning as Catholic tradition says that all the church bells in France fly off to the Vatican on Good Friday taking with them all the misery and grief of those who mourn the crucifixion.
Traditionally Easter egg hunts start when the church bells ring on Easter morning and you will find this practised in many towns and villages giving great joy to children of all ages.
Christmas Day (Noël) - An important part of Christmas for many families in France is Midnight Mass on Christmas eve. Following this there is Le Réveillon a late supper feast, in some areas oysters are traditional while in Burgundy it's traditional to serve Chestnuts and turkey.
The Bûche de Noël or Yule log is very popular and is traditionally made with chocolate and chestnuts, it is served all through Christmas.
A christmas tree is traditional along with a traditional nativity scene. Small presents are generally given to children on Christmas eve but main gifts and cards are exchanged on New Years day.
New Years Day (le Jour de l'An)
New Years eve is called la Saint-Sylvestre and is celebrated with another feast le Réveillon de Saint-Sylvestre traditional foods include foie gras and champagne. At midnight it's traditional to kiss under the mistletoe and exchange wishes and new years greetings.
Many people in France start New Year's Day at midnight while celebrating with friends or family members. Public and private fireworks displays are common. Many people drink champagne, sparkling white wine or hot wine (vin chaud). People generally spend the rest of the day quietly.
Public life is generally quiet in France on January 1. Post offices, banks, stores and other businesses are closed. Outside of tourist areas, restaurants and cafes may be closed. However, some stores in Paris, as well as at airports and railway stations and along major highways, may be open. Public transport service schedules vary depending on where one lives and intends to travel.