Several Bastille Day traditions contribute to the festivities of the French national holiday, but the biggest tradition is the parade that takes place every year on the morning of Bastille Day. A military parade makes an impressive showing of all the branches of the French military, (naval and army on the ground, and air force flying above) and is held on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. Of course, Bastille Day is celebrated in all corners of France, not just in Paris. In fact, Bastille Day is even celebrated in other countries by smaller groups of people who have some sort of ancestral or cultural connection to France.
Original Bastille Day Traditions
The first Bastille Day was in the year 1790, exactly one year after the storming of the Bastille. The one year anniversary was intended to celebrate the new start that France was making and recognize the initiative of the French citizens in storming the Bastille and taking matters into their own hands. It wasn't until the late 1800s though, that the annual celebrations on the 14th of July were named the national holiday. From that time forward, all of the original Bastille Day traditions, such as a huge feast and a stately, extravagant parade, took on new proportions and eventually spread beyond the borders of France.
Bastille Day Parade
The annual parade in the morning on the 14th of July is truly a patriotic event in France. French flags are displayed in every possible empty space. The parade itself is a militaristic one. Candy is not thrown, but in other respects it resembles certain sections of an American Fourth of July Parade. If you are lucky enough to be in France one summer, be sure to catch the parade--don't be disappointed though that you can't get as close to the parade route as you might like. If a trip to France is not in the cards, you can get a feel for the parade by watching a few Bastille Day Parade videos.
Bastille Day Feasts
No French holiday would be complete without a lavish and utterly delicious meal. In some regions of France it is customary to have a picnic on Bastille Day, but in most regions, families head home to enjoy a nice leisurely meal in the middle of the day. Of course, many families enjoy this meal at home in their backyards or gardens in order to enjoy the weather. This special meal can consist of just about anything, but, generally speaking, the menu is light compared to winter holidays (less butter and cream and more herbs and uncooked fruits and vegetables). In addition, the courses are more likely to include cold starters, such as quiches and salads instead of soup or other warm starters. Expect a delectable dessert to be the crowning glory on the meal, and do expect the meal to linger on and on. A big feast on Bastille Day in the middle of the day is often followed by a very leisurely afternoon.
A Modern Addition to Bastille Day
Nowadays, the parade and the feast are traditions that are still going strong, but fireworks have also been added into the day's activities in many regions of France. Especially in the bigger cities, you can expect to enjoy a patriotic fireworks display in the (late) evening. This is another French tradition that resembles what is done on Independence Day in America. Adults and children alike enjoy this celebratory part of la Fête Nationale. Also commonly referred to as le 14 juillet, much like Americans call it the Fourth of July, France's Bastille Day commemorates the beginnings of the modern nation of France, and does so with celebrations enjoyed by young and old alike.