The inaccurate name used by foreigners for the French "Fête Nationale" (National Day) on July 14th.

Wait, I know the history of France. The Bastille was a prison; it was almost empty, but remained a symbol of Bourbon monarchic oppression. Its storming by the people occurred on July 14th, 1789. So why do you say it is not an accurate name?

Because National Day in France celebrates another day: July 14th, 1790, not 1789.

Huh? What happened on July 14th, 1790? Did they inaugurate the Opera-Bastille? You know, that thing I saw in Paris last year...

No, the Opera-Bastille was built in the late 20th century.

On July 14th, 1790, a great festival, the Fête de la Fédération, was set up on the Champ-de-Mars (where the Eiffel Tower was erected in 1889) and commemorated what had happened one year before, on the purpose to cement the French unity around the Revolution.

So you celebrate a day that celebrates another day? I can't understand the French...

There was a problem with the storming of the Bastille. All Frenchmen could not rally around that event because the mob took the Bastille by force, killed the guards and paraded in the street showing off Governor de Launey's head. It was a forerunner of the terrible things that happened in 1793 when the State used terrorism as a way of government.

Ninety years later, in 1880, France was still fragile. After decades of upheavals and wars, the National Assembly chose republic over monarchy by only one vote of majority. The royalists were still strong in the country. And the blood of the Bastille was a stain on the Republic. The Fête de la Fédération, on the other hand, was the perfect example of French unity around republican values. They chose to officially commemorate that day to reassure the bourgeois.

How do you celebrate the Bastille, I mean the National Day?

Some people launch firecrackers in the streets, which is very annoying. On July 13th they also dance or watch fireworks. For some reason, most balls are organized by firemen.

On July 14th, the Army parades on the Champs-Elysées with the President. It's a good occasion for symbols such as inviting German soldiers a few years ago, or New York City firemen in 2002. Since it's a holiday, it's a good idea to stay in bed.

You know, I just asked a French friend who told me that National Day commemorated the fall of the Bastille.

Believe me, he's wrong. Most French people know little about Fête de la Fédération, while the fall of the Bastille is a popular symbol.

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