Bastille Day. It conjures up images of fireworks, bonfires, and other colorful celebrations but that's not how it started.
On July 14, 1789, some citizens of Paris, fatigued by the tyranny of King Louis XVI stormed Hotel des Invalides and the Bastille, a virtually empty medieval fortress where political prisoners had previously been held. They seized gunpowder, muskets, and other arms.
The King and his wife Marie Antoinette, who was known for her excesses, fled to Chateau de Versailles but it was too late. Three months later, they were forced to come back to Paris.
Bastille Day was first celebrated in 1790.
Every year since 1880, on July 14th, Bastille Day has been celebrated as a national holiday in France to commemorate this historical event, known as "the storming of the Bastille" that triggered the French Revolution and ended the monarchy in France.
What happens on Bastille Day? The celebrations begin on July 13th in Paris with "retraite aux flambeaux", the re-enactment of the invasion of the Bastille.
Entry to the Louvre and a matinee at the opera is free. There are firemen's balls.
During a military parade along the Champs-Elysees that includes flyovers, the Red Arrows stream smoke in the colors of France's flag:
The highlight is the fireworks across from the Eiffel Tower, at Bassins du Trocadero, formerly the site of Palais du Trocadero (built as an event venue and concert hall for the 1878 World's Fair):
Even if your group couldn't make it to Paris this year and there is no budget for a trip to Paris next year, the good news is that there are Bastille Day celebrations around the world, including over 50 cities in the U.S.
Sacramento has a Bastille Day waiter's race. In Milwaukee, the largest U.S. Bastille Day celebration takes place at Cathedral Square Park where there is a replica of the Eiffel Tower during the 4 days. There are demos of French and Cajun cuisine, wine tastings, and an International Marketplace.
In Vermont, to celebrate the state's French heritage, French Heritage Days take place on the Friday and Saturday before Bastille Day. After a flag raising ceremony, there are re-reenactments, marching drills, and opportunities to enjoy French Food.
Around the world, from New Orleans to Toronto and Montreal to Cape Town and Sydney and Brisbane, Australia, French embassies and cultural organizations like Alliance Francaise and the French American Chamber of Commerce also host colorful Bastille day celebrations.
For information about about national celebrations around the world, also read Dazzling Displays of National Pride.