Word of the Week - Bastille Day

Definition: Bastille Day

Noun: A day celebrating the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789, which started the French Revolution.

This Saturday, July 14, is Bastille Day - a celebration that started in France but that is now a big party in many cities!

What is Bastille Day?

Although these days Bastille Day is a chance to have a big party and celebrate French traditions (wherever you are in the world), it is held to celebrate one of the most important events in Western history: the Storming of the Bastille.

The Storming of the Bastille

In the 1700s, France was ruled by the king and his nobles, who were extremely rich, but were only 2% of the population. The rest were very poor, but they had heard of democracy and countries like the USA, where people were trying to create governments ruled by the citizens.

Not enough food, high taxes and an unfair social system led to riots. Eventually dozens of revolutionaries stormed (attacked) the Bastille, a prison-fortress where the French royal family lived.  They caught the empress, Marie Antoinette, and executed her in public.

The French royal family were quickly overthrown.  After the revolution in France, many other countries in Europe tried to overthrow their kings and emperors - much like what is now happening in the Arab world. The chaos and change that followed created Europe as we know it today.

"Let Them Eat Cake!"


Bastille Day
Marie Antionette

This famous quote was (according to legend) said by Marie Antoinette. Bread was the food of the common people, and they spent half of their income on it. Because it was so expensive, and in such short supply, it was one of the main reasons they were unhappy. When she was told that the peasants had no bread, she said, "let them eat brioche."

Brioche is a type of rich, sweet bread eaten by the nobles at the time. It was much more expensive than normal bread, and showed that the empress did not understand the problems of the common people. Historians are not sure if she actually said it.

Bastille Day in Other Countries

These days, Bastille Day is a celebration of French national pride, and communities around in the world with French roots usually have a big party.  Some events happening in Kaplan cities are:

  • Philadelphia - gather outside the walls of Eastern State Penitentiary and re-enact the Storming of the Bastille as thousands of cakes are thrown from the walls.  Not to be missed!
  • Chicago - enjoy French food, music, wine, dancing, 3D films and live comedy
  • Brisbane - loads of market stalls, French food and drinks, music and local French artists and artisans put on a huge open-air fair
  • London - London's large French community comes together for a big street party all weekend
  • New Orleans (Near Miami) - The USA's largest French community celebrates Bastille Day in style with a whole week of high-profile events, celebrations and exhibits.  Definitely worth a trip up for the weekend!

Bastille Day in Philadelphia

There are loads of Bastille Day celebrations happening this week, all over the world.  Does the French community in your city do anything special for Bastille Day?  We'd love to hear about it in the comments!

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