What is Bastille Day?

With social media feeds flooded with red, white, and blues, it's a good day to discover the history of Bastille Day. 


If you know anyone French, you probably have at least heard of Bastille Day as they post pictures of their celebrations on Facebook and Instagram. 

While the American Revolution for independence was one marking our political separation Great Britain, France’s revolution was against their own monarchy during a time of incredible economic success and modern progress in the country as a whole. It was not to create a new country, but to establish a constitution- to balance an over bloated, frivolous monarchy- to give a voice to the citizens.

In 1789, the Bastille, the Parisian prison, was full of political prisoners. “Political prisoner” could mean anyone actively treasonous or just on the bad side of the crown.

When citizens in riot stormed the Bastille, in truth, they were looking for gunpowder to fuel their violent ambitions against the nobility- but prisoners were indeed freed in the process. In a famous exchange, the King Louis XVI asked a French duke if the actions at the Bastille were a revolt. The Duke replied “No, sire, a revolution.”


What followed was a bloody, frightening time of French history. Rewriting their entire political system in the Reign of Terror, turning the monarchy on its head, France struggled to find its new footing for many years before refining their separation between state and the old rule of royalty.

It wasn’t until a hundred years later that the 14th of July became a national holiday, a day to celebrate the thoughtful freedom philosophers and mark the end of France’s chaotic political struggle. It’s take many generations for the citizens to internally resolve the question of “what is Bastille Day?”


Today celebrated with parades, air shows, fireworks, music and huge parties such as the Fireman’s Ball on the 13th and 14th- hosted at Parisian fire stations… It’s a good day to be French. Vive la France!


If you want to follow the celebratory progress, check out the Facebook pages for French Girl in Seattle and Je t'aime Me Neither and the blog Mama Loves Paris


photos via wikimedia commons