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Bastille Day is the French national holiday, celebrated on July 14th of each year. It is called Fête Nationale (National Holiday) in France. It commemorates the 1790 Fête de la Fédération, held on the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789; the Fête de la Fédération was seen as a symbol of the uprising of the modern French "nation", and of the reconciliation of all the French inside the constitutional monarchy which preceeded the First Republic, during the French Revolution.
The Storming of the Bastille
On May 5, 1789, Louis XVI convened the Estates-General to hear their grievances. The deputies of the Third Estate representing the common people (the two others were clergy and nobility) decided to break away and form a National Assembly.
On June 20 the deputies of the Third Estate took the Tennis Court Oath (named after the place where they had gathered which was a place where an ancestor of tennis, the "jeu de paume" was played), swearing not to separate until a Constitution had been established. To show their support, the people of Paris stormed the Bastille, a prison where people were jailed by arbitrary decision of the King (lettre de cachet). The Bastille was, in particular, known for holding political prisoners whose writings had displeased the royal government. Thus the Bastille was a symbol of the absolutism of the monarchy.
Some find significance in the fact that there were only 7 inmates housed at the time of the siege. Among those inmates, Marquis de Sade is believed to have triggered the assault by shouting that people were being executed inside. Many historians believe that the storming of the Bastille was more important as a rallying point and symbolic act of rebellion than any practical act of defiance. No less important in the history of France, it was not the image typically conjured up of courageous French patriots storming the Bastille and freeing hundreds of oppressed peasants.
Shortly after the storming of the Bastille, on August 26, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was proclaimed.
July 14 is the national day, simply called Fête nationale or 14 juillet (though it is generally referred to as Bastille Day in English). Many cities hold fireworks during the night. It is also customary that firefighters organize dancing parties (bals du 14 juillet).
Military parades are held on July 14 morning, the largest of which takes place on the Champs-Élysées avenue in Paris in front of the President of the Republic. The parade opens with cadets from certain schools (École Polytechnique, Saint-Cyr), then other infantry troops, then motorized troops; aviation flies above. In recent times, it has become customary to invite units from France's close allies into the parade; for instance, in 2002, cadets from the United States Military Academy paraded. The parade always also involves the French Republican Guard, and occasionally (non-military) police units; it always ends with the Paris Fire Brigade (which, as an exception in France, is under military status).
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