Bastille Day – not just for the French

| July 12, 2013

On Bastille Day the French remember their revolutionary past. Sharon Stratford, who is running a website for Francophiles, explains why more and more Australians are joining the celebrations.

While Australia Day is important to us, France’s national day potentially holds comparatively more significance for the French. For Australians, it is about the landing of our founders; for French people their day has a deeper meaning, linked to past hard fought rights. As well as recognising our national day, more Australians than ever also celebrate Bastille Day and all things French.

Bastille Day is called Le quatorze julliet in France, the 14th of July, which is the anniversary of the Bastille prison storming in 1789 during the French Revolution. The people of a country with the motto of ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’ (coined also during the French Revolution, but back then the phrase’s additional final term was ‘death’) have a great passion for their nation and this is reflected in celebrations on their day.

In 1880, when the 14th of July was proclaimed as the date of France’s national day, the French parliament said that the event should be ‘celebrated with all the brilliance that local resources allow’. Since then, Bastille Day is the biggest annual party held across France. Every town and village have planned activities including Paris where fire stations run balls on the evening of 13th July where dancing continues throughout the night to welcome in the following special day. The most impressive recognition though is the military march along Paris’ main street, the Champs Elysees – it is certainly the best parade I have ever experienced. My favourite are the jets flying overhead expelling blue, white and red smoke to represent the French ‘tricolour’ flag.

More and more, Bastille Day is being celebrated in other countries around the world. United States festivities include sit down table meals on closed off street blocks in New York, Marie Antoinette influenced cake throwing in Philadelphia and a Parisian waiters’ race in LA. In Australia, French events on the day expand every year. Part of this is explained by the greater number of French nationals coming to live in our country permanently and temporarily – visitors from France have trebled in the past decade.

However, I believe the increasing interest in Bastille Day here is more related to the ever growing affection Australians have for France and things French. Over one million of us now travel to France each year and numbers are rising continually at a rate of 5-10% per annum. By head of population, more people from Australia than anywhere else outside Europe are visitors to France. This says a lot, especially with France consistently having the highest tourist numbers of any country in the world (over 80 million per annum).

Five years ago, we bought a house in France so we could have a constant link to the other country we love besides our own and also set up a website to express our French desire. We subsequently discovered that we were not the only ones to feel this way, with over 10,000 Australian Francophiles having joined our website community to date. The reasons we and our community members have an affinity for France are too numerous to list, but include French history and architecture, given things are so much older than they are here; France’s natural beauty and diverse landscape; the French language which many Australians choose to learn to speak; and, that most divine French food and wine.

So while we may not totally share the full extent of the passion the French feel for their day, we certainly have an increasing appreciation of their unique culture, country and celebrations. Bonne fete nationale, France!

Sharon and her husband, David, run French Australia, an online directory of French businesses, organisations and services in Australia. It also lists French events happening across the country including Bastille Day activities.