The French take their holidays very seriously. Aside from a number of public holidays throughout the year, many people take the entirety of August off for their summer vacation.
If you’re a tourist, or have recently moved to France, it’s important to keep these holidays in mind when it comes to visiting museums, shops and grocery stores as many of these will be closed.
The same goes if you or your child are enrolled in a French school. The French education system may recognize certain holidays that you are not familiar with in your home country.
Here’s a breakdown of the school and bank holidays in France.
France’s Public Holidays 2019
There are 11 public holidays throughout the year in France:
January 1: New Year’s Day (Jour de l‘an)
April 19: Good Friday (only in Alsace and Moselle/Lorraine)
April 22: Easter Monday (Lundi de Pâques)
May 1: Labour Day, or May Day (Fête du premier mai)
May 8: Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day (Fête du huitième mai or Jour de la Victoire 45)
May 30: Ascension Day (Jour de l’Ascension)
June 10: Whit Monday, or Pentecost Monday (Lundi de Pentecôte)
July 14: Bastille Day (Fête nationale or le 14 juillet)
August 15: Assumption Day (Assomption)
November 1: All Saints’ Day (La Toussaint)
November 11: Armistice Day (Jour d’armistice)
December 25: Christmas (Noël)
December 26: St. Stephen’s Day (Deuxième jour de Noël, only in Alsace and Moselle/Lorraine)
The French regions of Alsace and Moselle/Lorraine were a former German territory in World War I. After being returned to France at the end of the war, both regions decided to keep the extra two holidays that were being celebrated there during that time.
Labour Day is the only statutory paid day off in France. On all the other holidays, it is up to the individual employer to decide if employees can take time off and/or be paid for it.
If a holiday falls on a Sunday, the following Monday is usually given as a day off. If a holiday falls on a Saturday, though, no extra day is given during the week.
When a holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, often times employers create a “bridge” holiday with them, or faire le pont, making an extra long weekend.
French Holidays Explained
While the following events are a strong part of French culture, some of these holidays you may recognize or may already celebrate in your own country.
Labour Day honours workers and the labour union in the country. People will sell flowers, notably lilies of the valley, on the street to mark the occasion and for good luck. This goes back to when King Charles IX of France was given a lily of the valley on May 1st, 1561 as a good luck charm. He then started the practice of giving lilies to the ladies of the court in an effort to pass the luck around.
Ascension Day marks the fortieth day of Easter and the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven.
Pentecost is the final celebration after the Easter period.
Bastille Day celebrates the storming of the Bastille in 1789. It is one of the biggest holidays in France, with fireworks, face paint, tricolour flybys and crowds of people celebrating on the Champs-Élysées.
Assumption Day recognizes when Mary, Jesus’ mother, ascended into heaven. Most people will attend church and spend the rest of the day with their families.
All Saints’ Day is a solemn memorial to the dead, with families often placing flowers on their loved ones’ graves. It comes the day after Halloween, which is not so much a thing in France as it is in America (so don’t expect to see any jack o'lanterns or trick-or-treating).
St. Stephen’s Day recognizes Saint Stephen, who was generous to the poor and one of the first martyrs of the Christian Church. Although only celebrated in the regions of Alsace and Moselle/Lorraine, it is seen as an extra day to relax after Christmas.
Approximately 60% of the French population is Roman Catholic. This is why, although there has been a separation of church and state since 1795, many Catholic holidays are still recognized and celebrated.
School Holidays in France 2019-2020
There are five French school holidays: All Saints’ Day holiday, Christmas break, winter break, spring break and summer break. Most of them are roughly two weeks long, except for the summer break which runs from early July to the beginning of September.
The holidays are set by the Ministère de l’Education Nationale, or the Ministry of National Education. Depending on the city, the school holidays will start and stop at different times. This is because the Ministry has divided French schools into three major zones, as follows:
Zone A: Besançon, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Grenoble, Limoges, Lyon, Poitiers
Zone B: Aix-Marseille, Amiens, Caen, Lille, Nancy-Metz, Nantes, Nice, Orléans-Tours, Reims, Rennes, Rouen, Strasbourg
Zone C: Créteil, Montpellier, Paris, Toulouse, Versailles
Here are the holidays for the upcoming 2019-2020 school year:
All Saints’ Day break: 19 October – 4 November 2019
Christmas holiday: 21 December 2019 – 6 January 2020
Winter holiday: 22 February – 9 March 2020 (Zone A); 15 February – 2 March 2020 (Zone B); 8–24 February 2020 (Zone C)
Spring break: 18 April – 4 May 2020 (Zone A); 11–27 April 2020 (Zone B); 4–20 April 2020 (Zone C)
Summer break: 4 July – 1 September 2020
A full holiday calendar can be found on the Ministry’s website here.
Double-check your school’s protocol when a public holiday falls on a school day. Depending on the school, this may or may not be treated as a day off. There may be additional holidays at your school, for things like training staff.
Do you go to an international school? International schools typically follow the same holiday pattern as set by the Ministry, but check in with your specific school to make sure.