In France, any bank holiday, or jour férié, is considered sacred, which is why many are under the impression that the French get a lot of them. (Not including the five weeks of paid vacation French employees are guaranteed.)
In the United States, we have 10 federal holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday (President’s Day), Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Unfortunately, unless you work for the government, you will likely only get eight or nine days off.
We counted the public (or national) French holidays, and… there aren’t that many more. The French have 11 federal holidays per year. (While most French holidays are observed nationwide, Alsace and Lorraine enjoy two extra public holidays due to their historical connection to Germany, retained after rejoining France post-World War I.) How we perceive France’s number of public holidays as being so high could come from the fact that in France, public holidays are guaranteed (making them also school holidays). In contrast, in the U.S., only federal government employees are guaranteed federal holidays off.
An Overview of French Public Holidays
France celebrates diverse public holidays, five civil and six religious, reflecting its rich cultural and historical heritage. While France recognizes a total of 11 public holidays, only May Day is designated as a statutory holiday. Individual employer-employee contracts or union agreements determine additional paid holidays and the terms for working on national holidays. If a national holiday coincides with a Sunday, the following Monday is typically granted as a day off. However, no additional day is given if the holiday falls on a Saturday. Suppose a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday. In that case, it is common for employees to faire le pont, which could be loosely translated as “bridge the gap,” i.e., take off a Monday or Friday in between the holiday and the weekend, creating an extended long weekend. Some businesses often choose to close entirely during these holidays. As a result, the French get about two weeks of public holidays throughout the year. For most French people, federal holidays offer an excellent opportunity to travel the country, visit friends and family, and take a well-deserved break as they indulge in all the wonderful things the country offers.
Here are the 11 most important French holidays, when they are, and why each one is celebrated:
Public Civil Holidays in France
New Year’s Day / Jour de l’an
Date: January 1
Purpose: You won’t get New Year’s Eve as a public holiday in France, but you will get the next day off to help you celebrate the New Year, and overcome your hangover from the night before.
Labor Day / Fête du Travail
Date: May 1
Purpose: International Workers Day, known in France as the Fête du Travail, is a French holiday to celebrate workers’ rights and the eight-hour workday. This is commonly celebrated with the passing out of muguets, or lily of the valley.
VE Day / Victoire des alliés (Fête de la Victoire 1945)
Date: May 8
Purpose: The French holiday Fête de la Victoire is celebrated to remember the day when the Allies accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany’s armed forces during World War II.
Bastille Day / La Fête Nationale (le 14 juillet)
Date: July 14
Purpose: Bastille Day is, believe it or not, not France’s Independence Day. La Fête Nationale (which can be literally translated as “the National Holiday), more commonly referred to as le 14 juillet, is what Americans call Bastille Day. It is a French holiday to remember the feast anniversary on July 14, 1789, during the French Revolution. (Read more about that here.)
Public Religious Holidays in France
Easter Monday / Lundi de Pâques
Date: the Monday after Easter
Purpose: Some public holidays in France are designed just to give you a holiday after your holiday, like Easter Monday.
Ascension Day / Jeudi de l’Ascension
Date: the 40th day after Easter, which is always a Thursday
Purpose: Ascension Day is another of the Christian public holidays in France, marking the day Jesus ascended to heaven following his crucifixion and resurrection, according to the Christian faith.
Whit Monday / Lundi de Pentecôte
Date: the Monday after Pentecost, which falls on the seventh Sunday after Easter
Purpose: Whit Monday (aka Lundi de Pentecôte), another of the French holidays not celebrated Stateside, is observed to remember the day the Holy Spirit came to the Apostles in the form of flames, according to the Christian faith. However, really in France, it’s a public holiday so the government can save money for programs for the elderly. (In 2018, the government saved 2.42 million euros.)
Assumption Day / Assomption
Date: August 15
Purpose: Assumption Day is observed in France to celebrate the day that the Virgin Mary’s body and spirit were assumed to heaven, according to the Catholic faith.
All Saints’ Day / La Toussaint
Date: November 1
Purpose: Though Halloween is more popular in the U.S., All Saints’ Day is observed in France to honor deceased relatives and all the saints.
Armistice Day / Armistice 1918
Date: November 11
Purpose: The second of France’s two autumn holidays, Armistice Day serves to remember the Armistice signed between the Allies and the Germans to end World War I.
Christmas Day / Noël
Date: December 25
Purpose: Christmas Day is celebrated to honor the birth of Jesus in the Christian faith, to be with family, open presents, and recover from le Réveillon.
Important Celebrations in France
In addition to French bank holidays, each season unfolds with its own array of celebrations and festivals, providing cultural experiences throughout the year. The arrival of summer holidays brings events like the Fête de la Musique, a nationwide celebration of music that fills the streets around the summer solstice. Autumn in France is marked by wine festivals, celebrating the grape harvest with tastings and festivities in regions like Bordeaux and Burgundy. Winter transforms the country into a festive wonderland, with charming Christmas markets adorning cities like Strasbourg and Lyon, offering artisanal crafts and delectable treats.
Epiphany / Épiphanie
Date: January 6th
Purpose: Epiphany marks the day three Wise Men arrived, French people celebrate this holiday by eating the galette des rois, or King Cake.
Candlemas / Chandeleur
Date: February 2nd
Purpose: You’ll need to get out your crêpe pan for the last festivity of the Nativity cycle, 40 days after Christmas. This is famously the day the French make and eat a ton of crêpes!
Valentine’s Day / Saint-Valentin
Date: February 14th
Purpose: Valentine’s Day is celebrated in France as well, to honor the saint who gives the holiday its name.
Mother’s Day / Fête des Mères
Date: The last Sunday of May
Purpose: Mother’s Day in France is celebrated later than in the U.S., on the last Sunday of May instead of the second Sunday.
Father’s Day / Fête des Pères
Date: The third Sunday of June
Purpose: Father’s Day in France takes place on the same day as its American counterpart.
Feast of Saint John / Fête de la Saint-Jean
Date: June 24th
Purpose: The Feast of Saint John celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, around the summer solstice to kick off summer vacation.
World Music Day / Fête de la Musique
Date: The day of the summer solstice
Purpose: World Music Day is a beloved music festival in France, with free concerts down city and town streets throughout the country.
How many public holidays does France have?
France has 11 official public holidays.
What are the biggest holidays in France?
France celebrates several major holidays with national significance, including La Fête Nationale on July 14th, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day (Jour de l’an), Easter Monday (Lundi de Pâques), and May Day (Labor Day) on May 1st.