Bastille Day | French, History and Modern Economics

Bastille Day: A French holiday in English

An Eiffel Tower replica is used in commemorating Bastille Day in Milwaukee.

An Eiffel Tower replica is used in commemorating Bastille Day in Milwaukee.

Bastille Day is a French holiday celebrating the day in 1789 when French troops first stormed the Bastille, the center of royal power in Paris. Rather, “Bastille Day” is an Americanized version of that holiday.

See, in France, no one calls it Bastille Day. So if you’re looking up how to say “Bastille Day” in French, that’s Bastille Jour, seeing as how Bastille is already a French word. However, if you actually say that to a French person they’ll probably look at you strangely. Kind of like if you walked into a payday loan store and asked for a “payday loan no fax.” You’ll have better luck looking for one of those online.

Happy 14th of July

In France, they wish each other a “happy 14th of July,” and the holiday is called Fete National, which means national celebration. It’s sort of like Americans wishing each other “Happy 4th of July” on Independence Day. Saying “Happy Bastille Day” would be like saying “Happy Declaration Day” or something to that effect.

So here’s the French lesson. Happy 14th of July: Joyeux Quatorze Juillet. The J’s are of course pronounced all French-like. Joyeux is joy-OO, with the “oo” said like book. Quatorze is cat-OARS. Juillet is JWEE-ay.

Why wish someone a happy 14th?

Money and religion are the major causes of civil and international conflict, and those rules remain the same in France. The storming of the Bastille and surrounding civil war were caused largely by an economic crisis. From Wikipedia:

During the reign of Louis XVI, France faced a major economic crisis, initiated by the cost of intervening in the American War of Independence (and particularly never-consummated efforts to invade Great Britain), and exacerbated by an unequal system of taxation.

Long story short, royalty and commoners were duking it out, and on July 14, 1789, the middle class army stormed the Bastille.

The medieval fortress and prison in Paris known as the Bastille represented royal authority in the center of Paris. While the prison only contained seven prisoners at the time of its storming, its fall was the flashpoint of the French Revolution, and it subsequently became an icon of the French Republic.

Capitalizing on storming the Bastille

It’s interesting — and somewhat random — which foreign holidays make their way into the marketing promotions of U.S. bars and restaurants. It makes sense. Americans love excuses to drink, especially on a Tuesday, and businesses love to give them excuses.

I’ve seen lots of advertisements for Bastille Day Happy Hour and other commemorative specials. I am sure that no matter where you live you can find a Bastille Day celebration going on. Here’s a list of some of the big celebrations and festivals that take place in the U.S. on Bastille Day:

  • New Orleans has a large celebration in its historic French Quarter.
  • New York City has a large Bastille Day celebration each year on 60th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan
  • San Francisco has a large celebration in the downtown historic French quarter.
  • Philadelphia’s Bastille Day, held at Eastern State Penitentiary, involves Marie Antoinette throwing locally manufactured pastries at the Parisian militia, as well as a re-enactment of the storming the Bastille.
  • Baltimore has a large Bastille Day celebration each year at Petit Louis in the Roland Park area of Baltimore City
  • Milwaukee’s four-day street festival begins with a “Storming of the Bastille” with a 43-foot replica of the Eiffel Tower.
  • Minneapolis has a celebration in Uptown with wine, French food, pastries, a flea market, circus performers and bands.
  • Seattle’s Bastille Day Celebration, held at the Seattle Center, involves performances, picnics, wine and shopping.