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Festivals in France

By law, France is a strongly secular state which strictly forbids religion becoming involved with the state in areas such as the law, government, education, national surveys and so on. It also guarantees absolute freedom of worship to all religions. It is notionally a Roman Catholic country but there cannot be, by law, an ‘official religion’. In reality, most French people of European origin do not regularly practice any religion and atheism or agnosticism is widespread. The calendar is full of Christian religious festivals of historic origin though and Christmas, Easter, All Saints, the Assumption, Ascension and Pentecost are all public holidays. There are many others including Mayday, Bastille Day and Armistice Day. Most of these are usually public holidays and an excuse for various festivities, displays, concerts and partying. France also has Europe’s largest Muslim population, estimated at around 10-12% of the population. Originally largely from North Africa, today they also come from the Middle East. So, Muslim festivals, such as Eid Al-Fitr, are widely celebrated in those areas with substantial Muslim populations. There is also a large African population from Francophone Africa and they may also have their own festivals in some towns or cities. Local tours through Withlocals will help you discover the best festivals in your chosen area.

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Top 10 Festivals in France

  • Fête des Rois – The Epiphany. In January, this involves baking a special cake and hiding a figurine inside for someone to find during a party or feast. When they do, they’re crowned King or Queen for the day.
  • The “Poisson d’avril”. This is April Fool’s Day and involves secretly taping a paper fish to the back of an unsuspecting person who then becomes the ‘fool’ for the day.
  • Christmas. A traditional day (or sometimes two) for over-eating and over-drinking with family and friends plus exchanging presents. Some may attend a Mass in the morning or one at midnight the night before.
  • New Year’s Eve. Much drinking and partying to welcome in the New Year, though this is perhaps less exuberant and anarchic than in many countries.
  • New Year’s Day. Traditionally a day of hangovers but also an important family and friends feast.
  • Easter. This is a long-weekend for many French families where lamb is eaten and it’s also a ‘sort of’ welcoming of early spring. Lots of sporting events take place over this weekend.
  • Bastille Day. This celebrates the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and the start of the revolution. Family and friends parties are commonplace but surprisingly low-key as a national day. Some towns may have parades.
  • May Day. Many families will try and get out for a country picnic this day – weather permitting.
  • Armistice Day (November). Instigated to remember the suffering of World War I, it usually involves locals gathering by war memorials for a service. That is sometimes followed up by drinks and snacks in a local hall or the Mairie (town hall).
  • Local festivals. France is a strongly regional country and almost every local town will have its own fête or festival weekend. They’re great fun involving barbeques, fairs and so on. Locals will help you to find those!

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3 Big festival events to watch out for in France

  • Cannes Film Festival. Usually in May, this is a major international event amidst the glamor of the Riviera. Fantastic if you like big-name spotting.
  • The Tour de France (July). A cycle race that covers the whole country and some others too. It’s a huge event here and an excuse for celebrations when the ride passes through a town or village.
  • The Le Mans 24Hours Grand Prix (June). An absolute dream for all ‘gasoline-heads’ this is a huge French and international tradition, held to the west of Paris.