Public Holidays France

Government institutions, banks and shops are mostly closed on official holidays.
The French increasingly value a long weekend. In combination with a weekday holiday, they often take the day(s) in between. This can be done voluntarily or sometimes mandatory (the company or agency is then completely closed).


  • January 1 New Year’s Day New Year’s Day is a national holiday in France. It is a custom that small gifts and gifts are given to staff and family. This custom already existed in Roman times. Sending New Year’s cards is also quite common, especially to friends whom one has not seen for a while.
  • January 4 Epiphany Epiphany is called l’Epiphanie in French. It is customary to divide a round gilded cake among each other. According to tradition, one piece of this galette des rois is left for an unexpected, poor guest. A fève is hidden in the cake. Originally this was a broad bean, nowadays this is usually a small earthenware doll. Whoever finds the piece of cake with the fève can call himself “King” (roi) or “Queen” (reine) and receives a crown. The following year the chosen one must buy the cake.
  • January 31 Candlemas This day is known in France as “pancake day” (La Chandeleur). Tradition has it that throwing the pancake up while holding something made of gold brings good luck. The day also has a symbolic meaning for the farmers. They go back to work after Candlemas in the winter.
  • February 14 Valentine’s Day Valentine’s Day (fête de l’amour) is a festival that came from abroad. The day is becoming increasingly popular in France. Valentine’s Day is celebrated in France in the same way as it is customary in our country: Couples in love go out for dinner and young girls receive jewelry and flowers from an often unknown lover.
  • February 24 Mardi Gras Literally translated, this holiday means “Fat Tuesday”. Shrove Tuesday falls on the day before Ash Wednesday (mercredi des Cendres). Ash Wednesday is traditionally the first day of Lent, which lasts 40 days (until Easter) and during which, according to custom, meat should not be eaten. Traditionally, pancakes, waffles or fritters are eaten during carnival . In some places there is carnival with decorated floats through the streets. Carnival parties and parades are also organized in a number of cities, lasting several days. The best known are the carnivals of Nice and Dunkirk , where the residents go through the streets in colorful costumes and make a lot of noise. It is not a tradition, as in the Dutch Southern provinces, to come to school dressed up and celebrate carnival there.
  • March 7 Fête de grand-mère Grandmother’s Day falls on the first Sunday in March.
  • April 1 Poisson d’avril On April 1, people make jokes and fool people in many countries, including France. An April Fool’s joke is called ‘poisson d’avril’ in France. There are historians who believe that the tradition of fooling people on April 1st started in France. Its origin is attributed to the introduction of the Gregorian calendar in 1582. It was then customary for New Year’s festivities to be celebrated for eight days, from March 25 to April 1. However, in 1582, New Year’s Day was moved to January 1, as we know it to this day. The people who were not aware of this, or were too conservative to go along with the new times, continued to hold on to the old New Year’s Day on April 1. They were then embarrassed by people in one way or another. As with many customs, the meaning of the custom changes quite often. In later times the idea took hold that the French could keep the devil at bay by fooling him on April 1. Nowadays they fool people using poissons d’avril (‘April fish’). Unnoticed, a fish cut out of paper and colored in is stuck to the back of the victim, who then walks around with it all day. Occasionally, as a joke, a real fish is put in the bed or tied to the car.
  • April 11 and 12 Easter Easter is a day off for the French. Easter Sunday is “Jour de Pàques”. Easter Monday “lundi de Pâques”. Easter in France is usually celebrated with a family dinner. For the children, fish and chocolate bells are hidden in the garden.
  • May 1 Labor Day Labor Day (Fête de travail) is celebrated more extensively in France than in the Netherlands. The French even have a day off. In France it is customary to give each other a sprig of lily of the valley (le muguet) as a gift because this is said to bring good luck. Red Cross volunteers sell these twigs at the countless May Day markets. In many French municipalities, employees profile themselves by marching through the streets.
  • May 8 Feast of Victory On this day the end of the occupation in the Second World War is commemorated in France (as in the rest of the world, with the exception of the Netherlands). May 8 is a national holiday in France, the French have a day off. In France this day is called “Le jour de la libération”, also known as “fête de la Victoire de 1945”. Military parades are held and wreaths are laid at local war monuments, including by veterans. The parade in Paris , which is conducted by the French President, is broadcast on television. May 20 Ascension Day On Ascension Day “L’Ascension” the ascension of Jesus Christ is commemorated. It is a national day off in France.
  • May 30 and 31 Pentecost At Pentecost “La Pentecôte” the outpouring of the holy spirit is celebrated. These are national holidays in France.
  • June 6 Mother’s Day Mother’s Day “La fête des mères” is celebrated in France in almost the same way as in the Netherlands and Flanders. In France, Mother’s Day is on the last Sunday in May – unless Pentecost falls on that day, then it is the first Sunday in June. June 20 Father’s Day Father’s Day “La fête des pères” is celebrated in France in almost the same way as in the Netherlands and Flanders.
  • June 21 la Fête de la Musique France The festival of French music “la Fête de la Musique France” is a music festival that is celebrated throughout France. This music festival is celebrated on the longest day of the year (June 21), sometimes a few days earlier or later. Music performances take place everywhere in squares and streets, even in public buildings such as post offices, mairies, hotels, schools, universities, hospitals and even in prisons. In Paris, music was once played from a ship on the Seine.
  • June 24 Fête de la Saint Jean The feast of St John “Fête de la Saint Jean” is an annual celebration to celebrate the longest day of the year. In some places St. John’s fires are lit in the evening
  • July 14th National Holiday July 14th (‘le quatorze juillet’) is the most famous national holiday in France. All French people then have a day off). The French Revolution is commemorated every year on this day. According to some sources, it is said that on July 14, 1789, the Bastille prison was stormed by the people and the imprisoned prisoners were liberated. However, according to other sources, it is commemorated that the “fête des fédérées” (feast of reconciliation) was celebrated on July 14, 1790, a year later. Whatever the origin of this folk festival; all French people are cheerful on July 14; the celebration has a strong similarity with Queen’s Day in the Netherlands. In many places the fireworks, le feu d’artifice, are ignited.
  • August 15 Ascension Day Mary Ascension Day “Marie l’Assomption” is once again a national holiday, giving all French people a day off. In some municipalities small fairs are organized, as well as a dance party for the youth and a ball with accordion music for the elderly. Finally, a fireworks display will be lit again.
  • September Monument Days In 2006, the European Monument Days (EMD) in Belgium and France fall on September 9 and 10 (Flanders and Wallonia) and September 16 and 17 (France and Brussels). The European Heritage Days, started in 1991, are a joint initiative of the Council of Europe and the European Commission. Since 1999, the EMD has used the slogan: “Europe, a common heritage”. The aim is to promote European heritage, with respect for cultural diversity. 48 countries are now participating and all organize their own Open Monument Day in September. During these days, public monuments such as the Palais d’Elysée and the Sénat in Paris , as well as private monuments such as villas, chateaus and gardens, open their doors to millions of visitors. It offers you as a tourist the unique opportunity to look behind the scenes at the Elysée or explore the normally inaccessible corners of the Louvre.
  • October 31 Halloween Halloween is a folk festival that came from America to Europe. In recent years, the festival has also gained a strong foothold in France, even more so than in the Netherlands. Children, dressed as a ghost, vampire, witch or skeleton, visit the houses to collect sweets. Later in the evening, adults go into town, dressed up, to celebrate in cafes and discos decorated with pumpkins and spooky paraphernalia. Shop windows and streets and squares of French cities are also increasingly decorated with such attributes around this time.
  • Nov 1 All Saints Day All Saints Day “Toussaint” is a national holiday in France. Originally, the saints were commemorated on this day. Nowadays the French already go to the cemetery on “All Saints Day”, which originally only took place on “All Souls Day”. There people commemorate the deceased family members, friends and acquaintances and reflect on their own mortality. This commemoration was actually supposed to take place on All Souls’ Day, but the French postponed this custom by one day.
  • November 2 All Souls Day All Souls Day “le Jour des Morts”. For an explanation, I refer you to All Saints’ Day, the festival that has become mixed up in France.
  • Nov 11 Armistice (1918) The Armistice “Anniversaire de l’Armistice de 1918” is a day off in France that commemorates the armistice in the First World War. ON this day, short ceremonies are held near the many war memorials that can be found in every French city and village.
  • November 18 Beaujolais primeur On November 18, the arrival of the Beaujolais primeur (or nouveau) is celebrated. This day is all about the promotion of French wine.
  • December 5 or 6 Saint-Nicolas In the north and east of France, the well-known Sinterklaas visits us with presents for the sweet children. Meanwhile, Père Fouettard, the white black Pete, visits the disobedient French boys and girls.
  • December 8 Immaculate Conception Immaculate Conception “Immaculée Conception” is a national holiday in France that commemorates the special status of Mary. According to Roman Catholic belief, Mary came into the world without being burdened by original sin. This is celebrated with a High Mass on December 8.
  • December 25 Christmas Christmas party “La Noël” is a national holiday in France, everyone has the day off. In France, Christmas is often limited to an extensive dinner (repas) after mass on the 24th with foie gras and oysters as regular ingredients. The French call such a (family) gathering the Réveillon. On Christmas Day there is often an extensive dinner again. Favorite dessert is le bûche, a cake in the shape of a tree trunk. In France, it was Hélène de Mecklenbourg, wife of the Duc d’ Orléans and of German origin, who decorated a Christmas tree for the first time in the Tuileries in 1837. Since then, a Christmas tree has been placed in our house at Christmas, just like in our home. Boxing Day is not celebrated in France.
  • December 31 New Year’s Day On New Year’s Eve there are hardly any fireworks in France. In the evening (Saint-Sylvestre) people gather together for an extensive meal. At twelve o’clock a happy New Year is wished “une bonne année” with lots of kisses, horns, confetti and party hats. There is also a lot of dancing. The favorite snack on this evening are oysters. The supermarkets are full of these crustaceans in the last weeks of the year.
  • Birthdays
  • Birthdays are generally celebrated less extensively in France than in the Netherlands. What is customary is for the birthday boy/girl to treat close family and close friends to a dinner party.

Name Days
The phenomenon of “name days” is celebrated throughout France.. This is originally a religious festival in honor of the saint who bore this name during his or her lifetime. The name days fall on the day on which the saint in question died. A well-known example is Saint Nicholas. He died on December 6 in the year 342. Every Frenchman who bears his name celebrates his or her “name day” on this day. If you have multiple name days, you celebrate the name day that is closest to your own birthday. On your name day you will receive a card and a present (for example flowers) from your family and it is customary to wish you a ‘bonne fête’. Many florists have a sign outside with the ‘name of the day’ on it, and the weather forecast for the next day also shows on television which name will be the focus.

Weddings are big celebrations in France. Traditionally, marriage takes place in the municipality where the bride comes from, and the church and civil wedding take place on the same day (in this order). In smaller towns it is the mayor himself who marries the bridal couple. A ‘reception’ is less common in France. In the evening, the festivities mainly take place around a grand communal meal, which lasts until the early hours. One of the fun traditions surrounding the French wedding is bidding to see the bride’s garter. She takes a seat on a table, and then the spectacle proceeds as follows: the more the guests bid, the more her brother or cousin shows of her leg by lifting her wedding dress.

Birth of a baby
In France too, a birth announcement is sent on the occasion of the birth of a baby, the so-called faire-part de naissance. When the baby is baptized (le baptême), the family is often invited to be present and sugared almond dragees (blue or pink, depending on the gender of the baby) are distributed among the guests.

Passed a diploma
In the Netherlands, candidates who have failed their final exams are notified by telephone. This is very different in France, where all candidates are asked to come to the school where they took their final exams. Once there, they look for their name on large boards and especially whether they have passed or failed or need to retake the exam. The emotions often alternate quickly! Candidates may have to drive quite a distance to receive their results, as many French students take their exams at a school centrally located in the region (often in the provincial capital). French secondary schools do not have a graduation ceremony like in the Netherlands. A few months after the final exam, usually in September, students can collect their diploma at school.