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Understanding French Holidays

Tuesday, May 1st was the start of many public holidays in France. As an American living in France, I don’t really understand the importance of these holidays to the French, except that I don’t have to go to work- which is very nice.

The first being La Fête du Travail or May Day, which is celebrated on May 1. La Fête du Travail in France is a public holiday to campaign for and celebrate workers rights. It is also an occasion to present lily-of-the-valley or dog rose flowers to loved ones. This was quite evident as I drove around looking for an open market, only finding local children selling these flowers in the parking lots of the markets and roundabouts.

Post offices, banks, stores and other businesses are closed today. Outside of tourist areas, restaurants and cafes may be closed. However, some stores in Paris, as well as at airports and railway stations and along major highways, may be open. Public transport service schedules vary depending on where one lives and intends to travel. Parades and demonstrations may cause disruption to traffic in the centers of large cities, particularly Paris.

Only la Fête du Travail is a public holiday by statute. The rest of the holidays are granted by convention collective (agreement between employers’ and employees’ unions) or by agreement of the employer.

The other holidays this month are:

Victoire 1945 or Victory in Europe Day: May 8th

VE Day commemorates May, 8 1945,  the date when the World War II Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of the armed forces of Nazi Germany and the end of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

Ascension: May 17 (39 days after Easter)

Ascension Day (Ascension) marks the day that Jesus ascended to heaven following his crucifixion and resurrection, according to Christian belief. It is the 40th day of Easter and is ten days before Pentecost Sunday.

Lundi de Pentecôte: May 28 (Monday after Pentecost-49 days after Easter)

Pentecost Monday (Lundi de Pentecôte) is the day after Pentecost Sunday in France. Many Christians believe that on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus Christ’s disciples. Pentecost Monday was a public holiday in France until 2005 and again from 2008. The holiday was reintroduced after about 15,000 elderly people died in a heatwave in the summer of 2003. The French government made a commitment to financially support the elderly and people with disabilities by deciding that Pentecost Monday would no longer be a public holiday from 2005 onwards.