July 15, 2011

Independence Day vs. Bastille Day, or, the 4th vs. the 14th of July.

The 4th

Since I was 10 years old and we moved to Dana Point, my traditional 4th of July has been composed of the following activities:

  • On the third of July, we decorate the golf cart with American flags, red, white, and blue streamers, and American flag pinwheels.

  • We wake up early on the 4th, and participate in the neighborhood 4th of July parade, wearing Holiday themed clothes and accessories (even my dog participates; he has an American flag bandana).

  • After lunch, we all head down to the beach. This is where the drinking begins.

  • We BBQ for dinner, and have a bonfire.

  • Around 9:30pm, fireworks go off over the ocean.

  • And as I’ve gotten older, my friends and I have stayed later and later at the beach, continuing the drinking bit.

The 14th

So far, I’ve only experienced one Bastille Day here in France, and it looked nothing like a 4th of July.

  • There is no civilian parade. The military has a parade in Paris, and apparently has one in Lille also, but even FBF who has lived here his whole life didn’t know about the one in Lille.

  • Nobody wears holiday appropriate clothing. I didn’t see anybody wearing blue white and red.

  • There were no parties organized among friends to spend the national holiday at a picnic or the beach or at a BBQ, just drinking and enjoying each other’s company.

FBF and I invited La Soeur and her beau over for dinner here, and I did my best to make it theme appropriate – we had champagne cocktails and vegetarian croque monseiurs for dinner.

The only thing that these two National Holidays have in common, in my limited experience, is fireworks, even if you have to wait until 11pm for it to be dark enough to light them in le Nord.

And boy oh boy did the city of Lille outdo itself with its gorgeous fireworks display.

Joyeux 14 Julliet (complete with des coeurs (hearts))!

Although it was a completely different experience from what I'm used to on American soil, I still very much enjoyed Bastille Day. What's not to like about standing hand in hand with FBF while watching fireworks light up the sky?


  1. The last fireworks we saw for the 4th was back in 2009. From the top of a hospital parking deck. I can't wait for the kids to get older and be able to stay up for fireworks without completely screwing up their sleep schedules.

  2. Excellent! We've never seen Lille's fireworks display, but from our house here we could see the ones in Mouvaux and in Tourcoing which were pretty nice too.

  3. Spectacular fireworks! I'm so glad you and FBF enjoyed them! We missed you here on the 4th!

  4. See? We French don't have fun like you do (except for the fireworks). :-) Patriotism is far from being part of our culture, and besides it may even be considered as something negative or shameful because it's often associated with the far-right party. A large number of people attend the military parade in Paris (and lots of them are tourists), but the 14th of July is not really dedicated to patriotism and family gathering. I'm 32 and I've never done anything with my family on this particular day. Of course, when I was a kid, we used to go and watch the fireworks but that was pretty much it: no party, no picnic, no special meal.

    I also think that the "Bastille spirit" has gotten worse this year. I don't know if you watched TV or read the newspapers yesterday and today, but two polemical subjects emerged: French soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Eva Joly (from the green party) saying she'd like to cancel the military parade and replace it with a civilian one. No one ever mentioned what this day was about historically speaking: the end of the royalty and the start of a consitutional regime.

    As far as I'm concerned, I think Eva Joly's suggestion is not that bad (although I'm also in favor of a military parade) because people would probably feel a little more concerned about this day. If not a family holiday, the 14th of July should at least be a day of national awareness, solidarity and commemoration of our historical and cultural background - which should not be a concept exclusive to political extremists!

  5. There was a little parade in La Bourboule, a small town in Auvergne. It seemed pretty festive. But I didn't even stay up to watch the fireworks :-(


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