Bastille Day is an important holiday in France, celebrating the birth of the French Republic and the end of monarchy. It is typically celebrated with fireworks, parades, dance parties, and feasts, and the whole nation regards the day as a national holiday. Francophiles around the world often hold celebrations of their own, as an homage to French history and culture. For Americans, Independence Day would be a comparable holiday.
Alternate names for Bastille Day include Fete Nationale and 14 Juillet. The first is a reference to the idea that Bastille Day is a national party, a day on which no French citizens are expected to work. The other is a nod to the date on which Bastille Day occurs, the 14th of July.
Fans of the Tour de France may note the holiday coincides with the famous cycling race. The festival atmosphere of the race is often noticeably heightened on Bastille Day, especially when the French team puts a great deal of effort into taking that day's stage of the race.
Commonly, people start celebrating Bastille Day the night before with fireworks and dancing. During the daylight hours of the 14th, it is traditional to see large parades and street parties. The President of France typically addresses the nation on this day, and the party picks up again in the evening. As with other patriotic holidays around the world, the French flag is often abundantly displayed during the holiday, and various incarnations of the national anthem are sung, hummed, or played on an assortment of musical instruments.
The holiday commemorates the 1789 invasion of the Bastille, an infamous French prison. This event was a major catalyst in the French Revolution, since it represented a popular uprising against what was viewed as an oppressive institution. Although the storming of the Bastille ended up having little practical use, it proved to be a valuable rallying point, and it was celebrated in 1790 with the Fete de Federation.
Celebrations of Bastille Day did not begin in earnest until the late 1800s, when the French government officially voted to establish a holiday celebrating the French Republic and the values of liberty, equality, and brotherhood. Initially, the government proposed the 30th of June. By 1880, two years after the initial proposal, the legislature had agreed that 14 July was a more significant date, since it would allow citizens to celebrate a major event in their history.