French Holidays Calendar: What you need to know (2020)

French Holidays Calendar: What you need to know (2020)

There are 11 public holidays in France. But there are a lot more French holidays, celebrations, and traditions during the year that don’t necessarily come with a day off. There is a particular rhythm given by the calendar to French people’s lives, much more so than I’ve seen in North America.

French Public holidays in 2020

But first the basics. Jour Ferie is French for “public holidays”. Here are the 11 French public holidays in 2020.

1 JanuaryNew Year’s Day
10 AprilGood Friday *
13 AprilEaster Monday
1 MayLabour Day
8 MayVictory Day in Europe (WWII)
21 MayAscension Day
1 JunePentecost Monday
14 July14 Juillet (Bastille day)
15 AugustAssumption Day
1 NovemberAll Saints’ Day
11 NovemberArmistice Day (WWI)
25 DecemberChristmas Day
26 DecemberBoxing Day *

*Good Friday and Boxing day is a public holiday in Alsace and Moselle only.

Good Friday, Easter Monday, Ascension, and Pentecost Monday change every year based on lunar cycles, but the rest remain the same from year to year.

French Holidays and Celebration Calendar

Now that we have the basics out of the way, I can jump into the details. French people have a lot of holidays from work, and French children have even more holidays than the adults. This means there are a lot of periods when everybody has more of a tendency to be on holiday than others.

And you combine that with each significant day having its own tradition and celebration, and you have the French way to celebrate, if you will.

Eiffel tower at night
Eiffel Tower at night

1. Janvier – January

i) Jour de l’An – New Year’s day

  • Public holiday in France: Yes
  • When: January 1st

Like the rest of Europe and the Anglo-saxon world, France follows the Gregorian calendar, meaning you get to go around wishing everybody Bonne Année and have a holiday. French people will usually continue greeting people Bonne Année the first time they see them that year, even if they are deep into January.

And along with Bonne Année, you can also add Bonne Santé, meaning “Good health”.

ii) Jour de l’Epiphanie – 3 Kings Day

  • Public holiday: No
  • When: First Sunday of the year

Three Kings day is not a public holiday but It is an important day in the French calendar. This is the day (or week) when French people get to pig out on a pastry from Brittany called the galette de roi.

The pastry usually has a tiny figurine called a feuve is hidden by the baker within the galette de roi, and the person who finds it is crowned King or Queen for the day.

iii) Winter Sales

You might think it is dreary to visit Paris in January, but the official Winter sales period (les soldes d’hiver) will start the 2nd week of January for four weeks. It is a very busy time in stores, so be prepared to have your elbows out while shopping!

2. Février – February

crepes for candlemas in france chandeleur

i) La Chandeleur – Candlemas Day

  • Public holiday: No
  • When: 2 February

Like on 3 Kings Day, Candlemas is another Catholic religious event that isn’t a holiday in France, but it is nonetheless important. And that’s because it is the day to invite family and friends over for crêpes.

This is not to say French people don’t eat crêpes all year long, but Chandeleur is a bit of a crêpe-athon. After all the eating at Christmas and the galette de rois, it is something new!

ii) Winter School Holidays

School is off for 2 weeks all across France at the end of February, beginning of March. The weeks are staggered based on the zone that the region falls into.

Two weeks off of school that means that it is time for the requisite family ski holiday! If you do plan on coming to the French Alps to ski, I recommend checking when the school holidays are and planning the best time to hit the slopes.

3. Mars – March

i) Fête des Grands-Mères – Grandmother’s Day

  • Public holiday: No
  • When: 1st Sunday in March

Unlike North America which celebrates both grandparents together in September, in France, Grandmother’s day is in March, while Grandfather’s day is in October. It was a holiday created in 1987 for commercial purposes by the coffee brand Grand’Mère, but nevertheless French people do oblige by sending Mamie a bouquet of flowers.

The usual flowers offered are those in season such as the lys or tulips, usually in white or pink. Avoid yellow or red as those colors are meant to signify passion.

4. Avril – April

i) Lundi de Paques – Easter Monday

  • Public holiday in France: Yes
  • When: Based on the Jewish calendar, Easter falls on the Sunday after the Passover full moon

While Good Friday is usually the public holiday in North America, in France it is Easter Monday. Only Alsace and Moselle have Good Friday off as well.

An interesting note is that there is no Easter Bunny in France. Lapin (rabbits) are considered a delicacy so it would be difficult to explain to your little Frenchie why you are eating that cute little rabbit who gave you some chocolate eggs.

☞ RELATED POST: Mardi Gras and the best Carnivals in France

ii) Spring School Holidays

It has been 6 weeks since the Winter school holidays, so time for school to be out for 2 weeks again! No one has any idea what to do with the kids, so its off to the grandparents or the centre de loisirs (leisure center).

5. Mai – May

Jeanne d'Arc in Paris
Jeanne d’Arc leading the protest

With several public holidays in May, this is usually the month where the average French worker does the “faire le pont“. Which is to say, if the public holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, they will take a vacation day on the Monday or Friday for an extra-long weekend. Don’t expect to get too much work done in May, because 1/2 your co-workers will probably be on holiday.

i) Fête du premier mai – Labor day

  • Public holiday in France: Yes
  • When: May 1st

Labor day in France is not in September, but in May. It is a public holiday, and in Paris you will see large demonstrations and protests by unionists for May Day. Even large museums like the Louvre will be closed on May 1st so check on their website if you are planning a visit.

ii) Jour de la Victoire en Europe – Victory in Europe day

  • Public holiday in France: Yes
  • When: May 8th

The end of World War II in Europe is an important holiday in France. With older generations still able to recount the Nazi horrors in France, the day is marked with military memorials with foreign leaders.

iii) Jour de l’Ascension – Ascension Day

  • Public holiday in France: Yes
  • When: Thursday, the fortieth day after Easter

It is the 3rd public holiday in May, so many people “faire le pont”, which is take a “bridge” vacation day to string together a longer holiday. If you are a business trying to get some work done in May, be prepared to have a good percentage of your coworkers on holiday.

iv) Fête des Voisins – Neighbors’ Day

  • Public holiday: No
  • When: Last Friday in May

It is not a holiday, but an evening when you are supposed to get together with the neighbors in your building for a moment of conviviality. It is usually organized in potluck style, with everyone bringing a little something.

v) Fête des Mères – Mother’s Day

  • Public holiday: No
  • When: Last Sunday in May, except if it conflicts with Pentecôte (decreed by French government

French people love their moms, too so it is Mother’s day! The standard greeting to your French maman is Bonne fête Maman ! with flowers and/or some chocolates.

☞ RELATED POST: History of Mother’s day in France

6. Juin – June

Fête de la Musique in Paris
Fête de la Musique in Paris

i) Lundi de Pentecôte – Pentecost

  • Public holiday in France: Yes
  • When: 50 days after Easter

Another Catholic holiday, which is also called Whit Sunday in the U.K. In France it is mostly just a holiday in June to recover after all the May holidays, before the big summer vacation hits.

ii) Fête de la Musique – Festival of Music

  • Public holiday: No
  • When: June 21st

It is not a public holiday, but it is a day to mark on the calendar nonetheless. All over France, and especially Paris will turn into a giant music street festival. Small bands, musicians, and just about anyone and everyone will take to a street corner to play their favorite hits.

The party goes on late into the night in Paris, so wear your walking shoes so that you can band hop with the locals.

iii) Summer sales

If you missed the soldes d’hiver (winter sales) back in January, have no fear, it is time for the soldes d’été! The summer sales start in the last week of June and run for 4 weeks during the dog days of summer.

7. Juillet – July

Bastille in Paris
Place de la Bastille, Paris

i) End of School

Surprisingly, School in France doesn’t end until the 1st week in July, although older children (high school) have usually finished their annual exams and are in cruise control. There is not much that goes on in school after the end of June.

ii) 14 Juillet – Bastille Day

  • Public holiday in France: Yes
  • When: 14th of July

Interestingly, the date of the French Revolution (in 1789) is simply called by its date, Quatorze Juillet, and not Bastille Day as anglophones call it. Bastille day doesn’t really mean anything to the French.

The day is usually marked in Paris by a giant military parade with tanks, military regiments, horses, etc. The President of France usually hosts a foreign leader and holds a ceremony. The crowd favorite, however, is always the traditional flyover by the different types of aircraft in the French Air Force.

Pro-tip: You will usually hear them practicing overhead on July 13th, from over La Défense over to the Champs Elysées and back.

☞ RELATED POST: Le Marseillais: Why the French National Anthem remains controversial.

iii) Juilletiste – July holidaymaker

There are two types of people in France: the Juilletiste and the Aoûtien. Those who take their annual 3 weeks off in July, and those who do so in August. If you are impatient, you take off July, when prices are slightly cheaper. Otherwise, you try to maximize your summer in the city, waiting for your August holidays.

8. Aout – August

i) Jour de l’Assomption – Assumption Day

  • Public Holiday in France: Yes
  • When: 15 August

For Catholics, this is the day when the Virgin Mary goes to heaven. For most French people, it is a day off in the middle of August that doesn’t count against their work-vacation allotment.

It was Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, who established these religious days as national holidays, one for each season: Ascension in spring (May), Assumption in summer (August), All Saints in autumn (November), and Christmas in winter.

ii) Aoûtien – August Holidaymaker

It is the dog days of summer in France when most people take their 3 weeks off. (Remember, most places in France don’t have airconditioning.) Cities like Paris are empty, abandoned to the tourists.

If you are a July holidaymaker who has returned to work in August, you are expecting very slow days at work, where almost everything is at a standstill.

9. Septembre – September

i) Jour de Rentrée – Back to School Day

  • Public holiday: No *
  • When: First Monday in September

The big day back to school! And for adults to get back to the grindstone! If there are projects at work that you have been putting off all summer, you now have to get back to it.

* Note: The day itself is not a holiday, but most companies have negotiated with their union to provide the day off for parents of small children. French parents usually take the day off to drop their kids off school, (though you do not get 2 days off if you have 2 small children!)

☞ RELATED POST: The French Education System Demystified

ii) Journées du Patrimoine – Heritage Day

  • Public Holiday: No
  • When: 3rd weekend in September

This is not a day off, per se, but rather a weekend to go behind closed doors. Most major government buildings and institutions will open their doors to visitors all weekend long. Lines are usually long for favorites such as the Palais Elysées (official residence of the French President), and the television studios of France 2 (the french equivalent of the BBC).

If you plan on going to any of the hotspots, be prepared to line up as early as 6am, if not earlier.

10. Octobre – October

i) Fête des Grands-Pères

  • Public holiday : No
  • When: 1st Sunday in October

The grandparents may not be celebrated together, but Grandfather’s day only dates back to 2008. Being a newer holiday, there is no particular tradition of gifts for Papy, so you can wish him as you please.

ii) Fall School holidays

School may have just started in September, but 6 weeks after the 1st day of school, it is school holidays again! Kids are off school for 2 weeks from the end of October to the start of November, depending on their region. Time for a fall holiday somewhere, if the parents can afford to take some time off.

French adults usually have on average 6-8 weeks holiday, but it is not enough to make off for all their kids’ school holidays. Time to send the kids to the centre de loisirs (leisure center) or call in the grandparents!

11. Novembre – November

arc de triomphe with french flag
Remembrance day Memorials on 11 November

i) La Toussaint – All Saints’ Day

  • Public Holiday in France: Yes
  • When: November 1st

Halloween on October 31st may not be celebrated in France, but its historical cousin All Saint’s day is.

Known as Toussaint in French, it is an occasion to remember the dead. Chrysanthemums are laid on gravestones of the dearly departed.

☞ RELATED POST: The Unbelievable History of Halloween in France

ii) Jour anniversaire de l’Armistice – Armistice Day

  • Public Holiday in France: Yes
  • When: November 11th

The anniversary of the end of the First World War is marked with solemnity here in France. Having been invaded in both WWI and WWII, the day is a national holiday with remembrance services being held on the Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysées.

12. Décembre – December

French Holidays Calendar: What you need to know (2020) 1
Christmas at Galerie Lafayette

i) Réveillon de Noël – Christmas Eve

  • Public holiday: No
  • When: December 24th

Schools are usually closed during this period (see school holidays below), but most businesses are open, with offices usually letting people off work at 3-4 pm. Traffic is usually quite crazy in the Greater Paris Area at this time.

ii) Jour de Noël – Christmas Day

  • Public holiday in France: Yes
  • When: December 25th

France is a secular country, but Christmas is Christmas. Time for an enormous family dinner that on average lasts 4-5 hours. (Time measured by my own statistical study, of course.)

☞ RELATED POST: The Traditional Christmas Dinner in France

Note: there is no Boxing Day in France on December 26th because as mentioned above, the official Winter sales period (les soldes d’hiver) will start the 2nd week of January.

iii) Christmas School holidays

Well it is Christmas and New Year, so time to give everybody some time off! The last week of December and 1st week of January (2 weeks) are usually off for all school children. Time for more help from the grandparents.

iv) Réveillon du Nouvel An – New Year’s Eve

  • Public holiday: No
  • When: December 31st

New Year’s eve is also known as la Saint-Sylvestre after Pope Sylvestre I. For most local Parisians, the tendency is to go to someone’s house for a party rather than go on the Champs Elysées (which is reserved for tourists), or an expensive dinner out.

Note: There are no fireworks at the Eiffel Tower, the festivities are on the Champs Elysées. So go for n apéro style drinks and dinner with friends, and then counting down late into the night… It is New Year’s Eve, baby!

A bientôt!

☞ RELATED POST: French Revolutionary Calendar: When France tried to change time

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French Holidays Calendar: What you need to know (2020)

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