When are the public holidays in France?

Posted by Josh on 25th Jul 2023 in the blog in the category

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France observes eleven public holidays each year. These are days when most workers and schoolchildren get the day off, to celebrate, commemorate a historical event or otherwise relax. Many of them are religious holidays, owing to France's history as a Catholic country, but everyone is entitled to a day off on these public holidays, except those who work in a sector that doesn't get the time off, such as retail.

These holidays are particularly worth bearing in mind if you’re planning a trip to France. You may want to coincide your visit with a public holiday to share in the festivities, or avoid one if you want a cheaper, less busy experience.

New Year / Nouvel An (1 January)

'Nouvel An!' as they say in France. As in many other countries around the world, this is both the end of the festive period and the first public holiday of the year. Many people spend it nursing a hangover…

Good Friday / Vendredi saint (moveable)

While this was once a public holiday in the whole of France, that changed in 1905, when the country officially became secular. Now it's only a public holiday in the Alsace and Moselle regions, due to a shared history with Germany, where it remains a public holiday.

Vendredi saint takes place the Friday before Easter, so it's what's known as a 'moveable feast' — 'une fête mobile', in French — meaning that the date it falls on changes each year. It usually takes place in late March or early April. It is a Christian holiday which commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus - which often makes people wonder why it’s known as 'good' Friday in English. The ‘good’, of course, means 'holy' in this context, as you can see by its French translation, 'Vendredi saint'.

Easter Monday / Lundi de Pâques (moveable)

Easter isn’t considered a public holiday, as it takes place on a Sunday, when most people get the day off work anyway. In France people get the day after off as well, meaning a four-day weekend in total.

Labour Day / Fête du Travail (1 May)

Taking place on 1 May, International Workers Day, Fête du Travail celebrates the role of workers in society and their achievements, and consequently entitles them to a day off. If it falls on a weekend then workers are entitled to a replacement holiday, often on the next Monday.

Victory Day / Fête de la Victoire - 8 May

A week after Labour Day, the French get another public holiday. This one celebrates the end of the Second World War in Europe, which happened on 8 May 1945 (although it carried on in the Pacific until September). France had suffered great losses in the war, and much of the country was damaged beyond recognition, so the end of the war was hugely important - enough to warrant its own national holiday.

Ascension Day / Ascension (moveable)

Ascension Day happens 39 days after Easter Sunday, falling, unusually for public holidays, on a Thursday. It commemorates the bodily ascent of Jesus Christ into Heaven, and to celebrate it people will often attend a special church service.

Whit Monday / Lundi de Pentecôte (moveable)

This public holiday takes place — as its French name suggests — the Monday after Pentecost, which celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus' disciples. The French government actually removed this public holiday in 2005, but the decision was controversial, and was later reinstated as an optional public holiday, meaning that employers now have the option to give their workers the day off.

Bastille Day / Fête nationale française (14 July)

Bastille Day commemorates the storming of the Bastille, a pivotal event in the French Revolution which ultimately led to the birth of the modern French nation. It is one of the biggest celebrations in France, particularly in Paris, where you can see fireworks, parades and a flyover, and join in one of the many parties that will be taking place.

Assumption / Assomption (15 August)

Assumption Day is another traditionally Christian holiday that celebrates the ascent of Mary into Heaven. The weather is usually good, so it's a great day to relax in the sunshine.

All Saints’ Day / Toussaint (1 November)

We have a bit of a break between Assomption and Toussaint, which is effectively the French equivalent of what's known as Halloween in English, although it's celebrated the day after, on 1 November. The traditional Christian holiday is an occasion for people to mourn their deceased relatives, but the spooky, festive side to Halloween has become increasingly popular in France, and it's not at all uncommon to see people dressed as witches or vampires trick-or-treating the night before Toussaint.

Armistice Day / Armistice (11 November)

Just as Victory Day marks the end of the Second World War in Europe, Armistice Day commemorates the end the First World War.

Christmas Day / Noël (25 December)

For many the most exciting day of the year, Christmas Day sees all businesses, shops, restaurants and publications close completely - so that's something to bear in mind if you happen to be visiting at this time.

Saint Stephen’s Day / Saint Etienne (26 December)

Saint Stephen's Day — or Saint Etienne, as the day is known in France — is the French name for the day after Christmas, which is also a public holiday. It is named after Saint Etienne (Stephen is his English name), who was one of the first Christian martyrs. Like Vendredi Saint, Saint Stephen's Day is only a public holiday in Alsace and Moselle.

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