May Day! May Day! May Day!

There are 11 jours fériés or public holidays in France - 4 of which fall in May! We find out what they represent for the French...


Image: Public domain (pxhere.com)
Image: Public domain (pxhere.com)

But first, how does France compare to other European countries? Not too badly - there are 10 public holidays in Belgium, 12 in Spain and 9 in Germany. In Europe, Cypriots enjoy the most public holidays with 15 days a year. On the other hand, in the United Kingdom, there are only 8.


Of course these public holidays were determined according to the history and culture of each country and can be divided into two types: civilian and religious.


Of the 11 French public holidays there are 5 civil holidays:

New Year's Day has been a holiday since 1810, during the First Empire

1st May (Labour Day) has been a work-free day since 1919

8th May, commemorating the end of WWII in France

14th July celebrates the storming of the Bastille, observed since July 1880

11th November, the Armistice Day of the First World War.


The remaining 6 public holidays have Christian origins:

Assumption, 15th August

Ascension, 40 days after Easter (this year, 10th May)

All Saints, 1st November

Christmas, 25th December

Pentecost Monday (Pentecost Sunday falls 50 days after Easter (this year, 20th May)

Easter Monday, the day after Easter


The first four became a holiday in 1802 following the signing of the Concordat between Bonaparte and the papacy. Easter Monday and Pentecost Monday were added in 1886. Note: there are some local peculiarities: in Alsace-Moselle, Good Friday and 26th December are also public holidays and in the overseas territories, the French commemorate the abolition of slavery.


This year, 2 of the holidays fall at the weekend, so for many people they will only enjoy 9 additional days off work. In years when they all fall on a weekday you'd be forgiven for thinking the country was going to the dogs! Not only do many people get the day off work, but they often choose to faire le pont, which means that if the holiday falls on the Tuesday or Thursday they will take off the Monday or Friday as well, to make a 4 day weekend!


Image: Public domain (pxhere.com)
Image: Public domain (pxhere.com)

An incredible 4 of the 11 French public holidays fall in May. The first of these May holidays is of course la fête du travail (Labour Day) on 1st May. Traditionally on this day the French offer lily of the valley to celebrate the return of good weather and as a lucky charm. Tradition has it that you can hear the sweet music of these white bells in the forests and undergrowth...

Here in Gourdon every year there is a giant vide-grenier litterally "empty attic" (car boot or yard sale) around the boulevard which is a great social occassion and chance to find a bargain. Similarly, on the 14th July there is always a brocante or "flea market" in Gourdon, as well as the customary fireworks at midnight. People come from far and wide to chiner (bargain-hunt) or fouiller (rummage/search)! Incidentally the French don't call the 14th July "Bastille Day" but simply le quatorze juillet, or more correctly la Fête nationale, although it does of course represent the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution, an important event in the forming of the French Republic.


Here are a couple of fun, short videos which explain French public holidays. If you find them a little too fast, try slowing them down by clicking the video settings icon in the bottom righthand corner.


Perhaps not surprisingly, the high number of public holidays sparks frequent public debate, but changing habits is quite another matter! In a country proud of it's laïcité (secularism), some ask why we observe religious holidays at all. Recently, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed interest in the idea of creating a second jour de solidarité or "day of solidarity" to fund assistance for the elderly and disabled.


The first day of solidarity was created in 2004, in a response to the heat wave that killed 15,000 people the previous summer. Pentecôte became a day that could be worked but not paid for employees. In return, employers pay the State a contribution equal to 0.3% of their payroll. This contribution is collected by the National Solidarity Fund for Autonomy, also created by the 2004 law.


According to a study in 2016, only three out of ten employees actually work that day but the law evolved in 2008 to give a lot more flexibility. It is now up to companies to set the terms. A day off can be surrendered, or another public holiday can turn into a day of work (except for 1st May). The additional seven hours of work can also be spread over several days. At the SNCF, for example, some of the employees work two more minutes a day.

Not just a symbolic gesture, since 2004 more than 31 billion euros have been raised by the National Solidarity Fund for Autonomy.


Credit: © Direction de l'information légale et administrative (Dila)
Credit: © Direction de l'information légale et administrative (Dila)


One thing's for sure here at French Residential - with our 2 May courses we won't be observing all the May public holidays, least of all Labour Day (but running our courses is something that we love, so we don't mind at all)!


But for the rest of you, why not take some inspiration from our article on the best days out around Gourdon... and enjoy!