The Parties, Pomp and Circumstance of Bastille Day 2011

  @ibtimes on July 14 2011 9:15 AM

France's President Sarkozy reviews the troops while descending the Champs Elysees in Paris at the start of the traditional Bastille Day parade in Paris (REUTERS/ Mal Langsdon)

For the past 221 years, France has celebrated the beginning of a war with a massive bash. France's National Independance Day plays host to a bevy of festivals, galas, parties and parades. If you are lucky anough to be in town for this grand fête be sure to take advantage of all the city has to offer.

Bastille Day, or La Fête Nationale (French National Celebration), or quatorze juillet (July 14th) is the French National Day to commemorate the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille fortress-prison and the liberation of France from the feudalists. Today France still celebrates this day with pride, national sentiment and tradition.

The celebration gets started early, the night before, with the Bal du 14 juillet. This giant dance party is traditionally held on the Place de la Bastille (where the stormed prison once stood) on the evening before Bastille Day. A different theme is chosen each year, usually providing an opportunity to wear elaborate costumes and hear live music.

The outdoor gay ball, for people who fancy a slightly more ostentatious celebration, also offers live music, dancing and drinking into the wee hours of the morning.

For those not into grand balls, the Firemens' Galas is a unique and fun tradition to be a part of. On July 13th and 14th, firehouses all over France open their doors to the public, offering live demonstrations, dancing, singing and general revelry. The firemen, dressed in uniform, will keep the party going until it's time to go to the parade. The fun resumes on the 14th after the fireworks have ended.

If you're not too exhausted from the night before, check out the military parade along the Champs-Elysées. The parade has been held every year since 1880, except during World War II, making it the oldest regular military parade in the world. Servicemen and women, including cadets from military schools, the French Navy and the French Foreign Legion, participate. Military aircraft fly over the parade route during the parade. The French president opens the parade and reviews the troops and addresses the thousands of people lining the streets. It's a government and public holiday so almost everyone is out to celebrate wearing their blue, red and white.

Patrouille
Patrouille de France flies over the Champs Elysees as part of the traditional Bastille Day parade in Paris (REUTERS/ Mal Langsdon)

Article 17 of the Constitution of France gives the President the authority to pardon criminals on July 14th and, since 1991, the President has pardoned many petty offenders (mainly traffic offences). Though, in 2007, President Sarkozy declined to continue the practice.

When the parade ends, head over to one of the 20 departments across France catering the Incredible Picnic. Wine, baguettes, croissants, cheeses, favorite meats, fruits and vegetables, desserts and other French delicacies will be served to the public during one of the largest organized picnics in the world. Kids can play soccer or pentaque on the fields surrounding the picnics.

Fireworks are a guarantee tonight when districts all over France light up the night sky in celebration. One of the best (but more crowded) spots to see the sparks is the Eiffel Tower, but there are also displays in the Saint Germain des Près district, and around Montparnasse- just as long as you get a good seat.

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The Eiffel Tower is illuminated during the traditional Bastille Day fireworks display in Paris (REUTERS/ Gonzalo Fuentez)

After the fireworks, partiers can head back to a firehouse or collapse in exhaustion after another successful Bastille Day.

If you can't make it to France, no worries, celebrations in Budapest, London, New York, New Orleans, Philadelphia and South Africa mean that French ex-pats and enthusiasts can join in all over the world. Most places try to replicate the Parisian celebrations with parades, fireworks and, of course, plenty of French pride, so it feels like you're in the heart of the country even if you're not.

Happy Bastille Day!

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