Bastille Day 2021: What Is La Fête Nationale?

Bastille Day is a French national holiday. It is celebrated across the world by French citizens, as they look back on their history.

We break down what the national holiday means, where it comes from and how people celebrate.

What Is Bastille Day?

On July 14, 1789, ordinary French people stormed the Bastille and began to dismantle it, bringing about the start of the French Revolution.

Over the preceding months, France was suffering from several food shortages, and resentment for King Louis XVI, and his wife Marie Antoinette, was growing.

The Bastille was a initially built as part of fortifications for the city of Paris. It eventually became a state prison, "reserved for upper-class felons, political troublemakers, and spies," according to the History website. Most prisoners were detained under direct orders from the king. It was an imposing structure, standing 100 feet tall.

According to History, revolutionaries started firing at soldiers guarding the Bastille on July 13. After the latter fired back, mobs stormed the Paris Arsenal and an armory to acquire a considerable number of muskets.

On the morning of July 14, an armed crowd was surrounding the prison, and later with the help of army deserters, battled the Bastille guards. Eventually, the military governor of the Bastille, Bernard-René Jourdan de Launay, raised the white flag of surrender. He would be killed by rioters later that same day.

This event marked the beginning of a series of events that would lead to the monarchy being abolished in 1792 and to the execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette for treason in 1793.

July 14 was made an official national holiday in France in 1880.

How Is Bastille Day Celebrated?

France celebrates Bastille day with a military parade down the famous Champs-Elysées avenue. In the evening, fireworks are lit by the Eiffel Tower.

The president, Emmanuel Macron, is also scheduled to address the nation.

Much like July 4 in the U.S, the day has become one where families and friends come together to celebrate.

Often, across France and in French communities around the world, fireworks and festivals often take place to commemorate the important day.

Of course, food is often at the heart of celebrations, and French classics, as well as picnic food, become central to people coming together.

The French national anthem, Le Marseillaise, is also an important part of commemorating the day, as its lyrics speak of defeating corrupt monarchies and arming its citizens for battle.

On this national holiday, most employees in France have the day off. However, COVID-related restrictions may change how some celebrations take place.

France and the U.S.

G7 Summit Buildup
U.S. President Joe Biden, President of France Emmanuel Macron and European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speak after posing for photos during the G7 Summit on June 11, 2021 in Carbis Bay, Cornwall. Leon Neal/Getty Images

For la Fête Nationale, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent out a statement.

He said: "On behalf of the United States of America, I send my warm wishes to the people of France as they celebrate their national day.

"We have an enduring and close relationship with France, our oldest Ally. In the spirit of 'Liberté, Égalité, and Fraternité,' the United States cherishes its relationship with France, defined by our shared values and belief in democracy and human rights.

"We fought side by side through two World Wars and worked together in the aftermath to create a more prosperous and secure Europe. We recognize and appreciate French contributions to global security, including in Africa and in the Middle East, and applaud French leadership on climate, including the Paris Agreement.

"The United States is committed to working with France to combat the climate crisis and to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Our nations' partnership is extensive and multifaceted, and we highly value France's contributions to creating a more peaceful and prosperous world.

"Best wishes to the people of France for a joyous national day and a successful year ahead."

Correction 7/15/21 4:12 a.m. ET: This article was updated to correct the year of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette's execution, from 1973 to 1793.

Eiffel Tower
Fireworks explode in the sky above the Eiffel Tower, in a picture taken from the Montparnasse Tower Observation Deck, at the end of Bastille Day events in Paris on July 14. Pascal Rossignol/Reuters