by: Lina Agabani Puch //
A firsthand account of the 3-day mania that swept the French nation, and a closer look at the origins behind the French notions we’ve all become very familiar with.
France has had quite an exciting past month.
Between winning the World Cup for the second time in 20 years, and having this symbolic victory coincide perfectly with the National Day celebrations – Bastille Day, it’s safe to say that as a Paris resident, I’ve probably heard the French National Anthem being sung during the month of July at least 100 times. In fact, I think I must have heard it more during the past month than in the entirety of the 6 years that I’ve lived here! I’ll admit, I too got swept up in the French fever. Before every match, I painted my cheeks with blue, white and red stripes, and I’m not even a football fan!
On the 14th of July, I woke to the sound of helicopters buzzing in the sky. Every National Day, a military parade takes place in the early morning along the Champs Elysées in the presence of the President. Three jets fly across the sky leaving a trail of blue, white and red fumes – the colors of the French flag – and all the early birds who gather to watch the show cheer on the President and the men and women in service. At night time, Parisians and out-of-towners gather around the Eiffel Tower, or else tune into their television sets from around the country to watch the annual
National Day firework display. I sat at my windowsill in anticipation. This was my first year at my new studio with my Eiffel Tower view, so I knew I would never forget this experience. The show, with a ‘love’ theme and preceded by a free concert, was simply magical.
The next day, the celebrations following the final match of the World Cup were like nothing I had ever seen before. As I walked along the city from Trocadéro Square to the Arc de Triomphe and along the Champs Elysées, scores of revelers came onto the streets chanting and singing. All norms of society were forgotten; it was as though everyone knew everyone else and the entire city was, in the words of Hemmingway, ‘a moveable feast.’ Strangers were hugging, flags were being waved everywhere you looked, and cars and motorbikes were honking and swerving along the streets, their occupants even inviting random people to hop on. It was like a scene from a dream and I definitely didn’t get much sleep that night from all the noise!
On the following day, hardcore football fans gathered on the Champs Elysées, this time to await the return of the champions, aka Les Bleus. Some came out five hours in advance to see the players up close in person. The French National Team were set to wave at the crowds as they were driven down the Champs Elysées on an open-top bus. Upon their arrival, more jets flew across the sky leaving behind the blue, white and red trail as the players headed towards the Elysée Palace, en route to meet President Emmanuel Macron. Having witnessed these three days of French pride and patriotism, it got me thinking about the origins of all these notions, the colours of the flag, the words to the national anthem, the story behind the French National Day! So I thought I’d share them with you, in light of this trèstrès French past month.
The French National Day
July 14th is a national holiday in France marking the beginning of a democratic republic. Before that, France was under the control of King Louis XVI who was a tyrant, plunging the country into economic turmoil. He left his people to starve and demanded they paid high taxes so, on July 14th 1789, angry protestors broke into the Bastille prison and released the political dissidents jailed by the King. Eventually, the monarchy was brought down in what is now referred to as the French Revolution, marked by the imprisonment and execution of King Louis and his wife, Marie Antoinette.
The National Anthem
The French National Anthem is called La Marseillaise. It was written in 1792 and then later adopted as the National Anthem in 1795.
The anthem’s lyrics are pretty brutal! Here’s what they say:
Let’s go children of the fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us tyranny’s bloody flag is raised!
In the countryside, do you hear the roaring of these fierce soldiers?
They come right to our arms to slit the throats of our sons, our friends!
Grab your weapons, citizens!
Form your battalions!
Let us march! Let us march!
May impure blood water our fields!
Yep, pretty violent!
The Blue, White and Red Flag
It is said that the colours of the flag originally symbolized the King (white) and the city of Paris (blue and red). Over the centuries however, the flag has been known to disappear and reappear.
Today, the French flag is becoming a more accepted symbol. Many French people will admit to not opting to wave the French flag because it was, for a certain time, linked to the far right movement with extreme political views like anti-immigration. However, it has been slowly losing that connection.
In fact, with France now winning the World Cup for the second time, it would appear that the flag has regained its popularity among the French population. Like I said, it flooded the streets of Paris last month. Even store managers have admitted that the French flag and other blue, white and red ornaments have never been more popular than this year, which was a great boost for their business.
Well, that’s all for this month, but stay tuned for more upcoming French content!