The Most Important Dates of the Year for Parisians
Parisians are notoriously passionate people. It doesn’t take much to get them out of the house and into the streets for even the mildest of celebrations. A big part of Parisian culture is centered around community enjoyment of date-specific events.
This means that each year there are a number of nationally recognized days set aside for certain celebrations. Whether scorching heat or blistering cold, le spectacle doit continuer! Or the show must go on — as they say in other parts. Parisians flock from far and wide to take part in these annual dates and let me tell you, it is always quite a sight to behold.
Since there are so many causes for celebration in the capital, I’ve narrowed it down to what I observe to be the most important few dates of the calendar year. Finding yourself in Paris over any of these events will be an experience to write home about.
Victory in Europe Day in Paris
Although this day is celebrated across most of Europe, it is particularly sentimental to the French people. Back in 1956 on May 7th history was made at a schoolhouse in Remis, France where the Nazi General, Alfred Jodl, signed the official surrender of the German forces in World War II.
For many people this marked the official end of the turmoil and thus the name “Victory in Europe Day” seemed most fitting. The official surrender took effect the immediate next day which is why this holiday is celebrated across both the 7th and 8th of May each year.
This was an event that affected the whole of Europe for the better, however Parisians hold it close purely based on that fact that it took place within their nation.
It is marked as an official public holiday in the nation of France. Banks, businesses and supermarkets close their doors every year for this event and employees are encouraged to celebrate.
While in Paris over this patriotic event you are best left roaming the streets, either at your own will or on one of the many free guided walking tours that can guide you around. I particularly enjoy walking the streets on these two days because they are absolutely caked in flowers and wreaths left behind by Parisians in celebratory unison. The sight and smell of it all is quite remarkable.
You’ll want to, at some point, make your way over to the Champs-Elysees where the official celebrations take place. Here, Parisians come together with veterans and government officials where there are a series of parades and wreath laying ceremonies beneath the Arc de Triomphe. This happens here because the tomb of the unknown soldiers lost in the war lied just underneath the Arc.
Victory in Europe Day, or V Day as the locals call it, is a glorious yet simultaneously emotionally draining event in Paris. This is largely due to the abundant presence of the theme of war and death.
To regather my thoughts and end the day on a lighter note there is a tea room called Carrette just a short walk from the Arc de Triomphe that I like to head over to. It is an ambient place to enjoy a calming cup of tea as the sun sets on another V Day and things begin to quieten down.
Bastille Day in Paris
Another holiday taken very seriously in Paris is La Fête Nationale… but you’ll know it better as Bastille Day! An exciting point in French history took place on July 14th 1789 when the Bastille was stormed in, you guessed it, Paris. Some dub this the official ignition point of the French Revolution that went on to such much social and political upheaval within the nation.
Place de la Bastille is a monument you can still visit today. To fully understand the unfolding of events a custom walking tour of the area wouldn’t be a bad idea.
Similarly to V Day, the public holiday drives the public to the Champs-Elysees for, in typical Parisian style, a series of parades and military ceremonies. The real fun, however, begins when the sun goes down. Since the storming of the Bastille happened so long ago there is none of the bitter death undertones on this holiday and people are in a much more heightened party mood.
In response to this, the city of Paris throws a massive free concert on the Champ de Mars at the base of the Eiffel Tower. Performances change each year and the concert is followed by the real showstopper of the evening; the only fireworks display of the year in the whole of Paris.
Watching the city and Eiffel Tower being lit up in the summer sky is not easily put into words. It is also not an experience one can every get bored of repeating however I recently stumbled upon a Parisian secret that changed my view entire of the event… literally.
If you move quickly near the end of the concert and make your way to the banks of the Seine you can jump on one of the river boats. Watching the fireworks from this perspective is how local Parisians like to do it, well away from the crowds and chaos.
Carnival in Paris
Each year between the beginning of February through to mid-March Parisians come together in the best way they know how… carnival! This is a Parisian tradition that dates back to 1926, deep in the Middle Ages. This year it will begin on March 3rd.
The Paris Carnival is not so much about the event and more so about what the event represents. Back in the early 20th century Paris was going through a rife social divide amongst its people.
The carnival gave way for people to come together and enjoy life, even momentarily, regardless of what social class they came from. Everyone from workers, to students, to big business owners took part in the carnival months in some way, shape or form.
Today it serves as a reminder of how far Parisian people have come and to always find means to celebrate one another.
During the carnival month you can expect daily festival walks, performances around the city and various parades — and of course lots to buy. While walking the streets (Read more about Discover Walks walking tours) you simply must stuff your face with some good old beignets de carnaval! For some reason they taste ten times better this time of year!
La Marche Des Fiertés in Paris
The Paris Pride March is a very important day to the people of the land. It is a day that has been celebrated annually in the capital for almost 40 years and plays a big role in the dismantling of LGBTQ+ discrimination across the continent.
Paris Pride draws crowds from far and wide all with the shared intent to support those existing within the gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex and queer demographic. The event is of an unfathomable magnitude and something worth experiencing at least once in your life. It draws a crowd of half a million people and runs solely thanks to volunteer programs. It is the biggest LGBT event in the whole of France.
The pride march is a tradition and crowds fill the streets while they sing and dance together & head to a final destination. This is usually Place de la Bastille. There you will find a massive podium setup upon which musical artists from around the world will entertain crowds throughout the day.
While the event is enough to leave you in immense patriotic awe and allied support for the community, the large crowding around the Bastille can get overwhelming later in the day. Since Bastille is considered one of the official LGBTQ+ neighborhoods in Paris I highly recommend you take a walk through the adjacent streets and get involved in the continuation of the celebrations there.
The bars and nightclubs put on their own spectacle of specials and performances. My favorite spot is over on Rue Lappe at a place called L’infini. Get there early to avoid the crowds!
Paris Pride will take place on 29th June this year. If you are in the city over this time be sure to get involved in the cause. Paris is a place built upon inclusion and expression – nothing incorporates both of these notions like a Pride Parade in the centre of the city of love itself. Marchons!
Street in le Marais, 2018 – Exilexi – Wikimedia Commons
Sales in Paris
So if there is one thing Parisians like more than a celebration… it’s a sale. Sun, snow, torrential downpour the sales will not be missed in Paris. The frenzy that these dates cause around the city are largely understandable — you really can get some incredible deals.
Black Friday is an obvious one. The event falls on the Friday after Thanksgiving and is supposed to mark the beginning of the festive season shopping. The true history of the day, however, dates back to 1868 when there was a forced boom in the gold market that lead to an immediate stock market crash of 20%. This day became known as Black Friday.
Every year around November 22nd, Paris sees absolute pandemonium as stores and businesses almost half the cost of their products. Whether you enjoy the high-end brands of the Rue de Rennes, or prefer the smaller boutiques in the avenues of Pigalle, this is the day to visit on.
The Black Friday sales extend far deeper than just the retail stores, however, visitors of Paris can find dramatic price cuts in a variety of tourist excursions around the city. Dinner cruises on the Seine, trips up the Eiffel Tower, guided walking tours of Le Marais… just some of the experiences you can expect at a discounted rate during this time.
Of course one sale a year is not nearly enough to satisfy the craving. So Parisians also enjoy their annual summer and winter sales at different points in the calendar. Every year on the second Wednesday in January the annual winter sales officially begin. This goes on for the next five weeks as the seasons begin to shift out of the cold.
On the last Wednesday in June, the official summer sales begin. These too continue for five weeks. The sales are something that almost all businesses in Paris, big or small, work together to take part in. It is seen as collaborate effort throughout the city and a temporary dismantling of consumerism.
Christmas in Paris
This brings me to my last, very important, date of the year for Parisians. The day when their love for celebration meets their other love… the shopping. Christmas is a special time in the city of Paris. It is so whimsical and charming that you almost forget to be bothered by the blistering cold.
Christmas markets form most of the appeal of European Christmases. If you know where to go you can walk through a different market every night. When I really want to feel the Parisian Christmas spirit, however, I take myself over to the Boulevard Haussmann and walk under the illuminations hanging over the street. Sometimes there is a nativity scene or two along the way to really get the festive energy flowing.
If you time things right Paris can truly be a place of date-specific enjoyment. I’ve only mentioned but a few of the very important ones above, there are so many more that Parisians hold near and dear to their existence. The beauty of it all is that there is a sense of uniform importance that flows through each event.
The Parisian nature is to celebrate, and celebrate properly; regardless of the age, importance or specifics of the day in question. If you are lucky enough to be part of any of the important holidays, then you are lucky enough.
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