Taking part in these French celebrations and events can be a very rewarding experience for the tourist.
Events differ from region to region, so contact your local tourist office for information about your area. If you are in France in spring and summer, you may come across the following celebrations.
St Médard’s Day – 8th June
The day of St Médard (the patron saint of rain) is an important one in the agricultural calendar, marking the start of the major harvests. People in the country keep a close eye on the sky at the time of year, as the tradition is that: “S’il pleut le jour de St Médard (8 Juin), il pleuvra 40 jours plus tard / a moins que St Barnabé (11 Juin) ne lui coupe l’herbe sous les pieds.”
Translated, it means, “If it rains on St Médard’s day, it will still be raining 40 days later / Unless St Barnaby cuts the grass out from under his feet.”
There are many different versions of this rhyme, all forecasting that a day of bad weather on 8th June can precede a prolonged spell of bad weather, which can only be broken by a good day on 11th June.
Le Feu de St Jean – 21st June
Visitors to French villages around the 21st June may find themselves involved in ‘Feu de St Jean’ celebrations. This ancient tradition was reprised by the Catholic church in honour of John the Baptist, whose Saint’s day falls on the 24th June. However, its origins are even older, and it represents a celebration of the summer solstice.
The celebrations normally take the form of the whole village gathering together for food and drink, and the lighting of a huge bonfire of hay and straw. The festival also has a practical side, as it marks the beginning of the new harvest, and the sweeping out of the barns and burning of the old hay. This practicality probably accounts for the continuing popularity of the festival, and the Feu de St Jean provides a great opportunity to meet everyone in the village for a drink and the latest gossip!
La Fête de la Musique – 21st June
This is a relatively new tradition, launched in 1982 by the French Ministry for Culture. It is held on or around the 21st June to celebrate the summer solstice, and has spread throughout France and also internationally. The fête aims to popularize music, and make it more accessible.
With this aim in mind, all concerts are free and no performer charges for their time. As a result, most concerts are held in outdoor or communal locations such as salles de fête, and the standard of performances can vary enormously! The event gives many young musicians their first taste of performing publicly, and there is usually a great atmosphere.
Bastille Day – 14th July
More formally called La Fête Nationale, Bastille Day commemorates the anniversary of the Fête de la Fédération on 14th July 1790. This was a huge feast held a year after the storming of the Bastille in 14th July 1789, popularly recognised as the day the modern French nation arose.
Huge military parades take place in Paris, along with firework displays, concerts and other events. Smaller celebrations take place throughout the country, with dances, barbecues and picnics being popular.