History of Bastille Day

On May 21, 1880, France instituted its national holiday of the 14th of July, in commemoration of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.  The event in 1880 was a Republican feast of partying with a day off, and from that day forward it gave rise to numerous events organized throughout France:  civil ceremonies in schools, unveiling statues of heroes of the Republic, distribution of food to the poor, fireworks, bells ringing, displaying flags, and parades.

The goal of this commemoration was to bring together all French nationals throughout France.  It is based upon the Feast of the Federation on July 14, 1790, when 300,000 people gathered together at the Champ-de-Mars in a movement of national reconciliation.  On that day, Lafayette, hero of the Independence War in the United States, represented the Federate (1) to pledge alliance of unity among all French people and (2) to protect Liberty and the constitution that had been declared by the Assemblée.

This feast also started the cult of Marianne, who is the personification of the Republic.  In every government location throughout France there are busts of Marianne.  The people were able to buy posters or prints of Marianne coiffed with a “phyrygian” bonnet (symbol of Liberty and worn by the people of 1789), and dressed with the three colors of France (blue, white and red).  From this patriotic manifestation quickly came the desire to party.  And even today throughout France and the rest of the world, you see French people getting together to celebrate in large squares, organizing public balls around fairground stands, and having lots of fireworks.

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