La Fête nationale, more often referred to as le quatorze juillet, is the French national holiday which takes place on the 14th of July, a date chosen in reference to both the storming of the Bastille on the 14th of July 1789, during the French revolution which marked an end to the absolute power of the monarchy, and la Fête de la fédération of 1790 which was a celebration of the unification of France under the new republic.
There are many ways in which le 14 juillet is celebrated in France, but the biggest and most elaborate celebrations tend to take place in Paris. We planned our trip especially so that we could be in the capital to experience the real deal.
Le défilé militaire ‘The Military Parade’
Every year at around 10am, there is a big parade which starts under the l’Arc de Triomphe and heads down along les Champs-Élysées. We were amazed by the size of the crowd and the complex barrier system that had been set up to control the flow of people. There were people standing out on their balconies (fancy that, living on the Champs-Élysées!) and TV crew and VIP standing on top of the Arc itself.
Although the parade was slow and stilted, and despite a half-hour hold up at one point due to miscommunication or perhaps a speech further down the road, the parade was quite impressive, considering neither of us know much about military machines.
There were planes, there were jets, there were fighters. There were trucks, there were tanks, there were canons. There were helicopters, there were firefighters, there were even diggers and cement-mixers.
We were astonished to see François Hollande, President of France, whisked by us. I must admit, I have now stood closer to Monsieur le Président than to any of the Prime Ministers of Australia who have been in power during my lifetime.
We made our way back through the crowds, through the strangely car-empty streets until we reached the Seine, and could rest quietly by the Liberty Flame, erected in honor of the relationship between two young republics: The United States of America and France. Seeing this statue highlighted the importance of this day as a celebration of the establishment in France of a new government, a republic of representatives of the nation, no longer a monarchy ruled by a single person who held all authority. This is where the pride in the French nation, the idea of France united under the republic first took hold. Standing in Paris watching this display of technology and resources, power and might, I can see that this pride still runs strong today.