Host a Bastille Day Celebration

Tips and inspiration from the French for hosting a celebration of your own

Bastille Day, formally La Fête Nationale or The National Celebration, falls on July 14th and celebrates France’s freedom from monarchial rule. The French national holiday coincides with the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, a large French jail that was a symbol of the King’s power. Similar to Independence Day in the U.S., it is a day when national pride is on full display. Just as with many other French holidays, Bastille Day is a grand occasion for a soirée in France — but it’s also celebrated around the world, as well, says Luc Dimnet, executive chef at Brasserie in New York City (and a native of Strasbourg, France).

If you can’t take part in the Bastille Day festivities on French soil (or want an excuse to throw a party where your guests can practice their French), host a celebration of your own at home this year. To give you a hand in planning, Dimnet has shared his favorite Bastille Day traditions and tips for hosting a celebration with us.

 

Bastille Day Traditions

In France, Bastille Day isn’t complete without three traditions — parades, feasts with friends and family, and fireworks — according to Dimnet. While the grandest parade takes place on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, many smaller towns host their own as well. After the parade, families and friends then gather for a large, lavish midday feast at home. After a lazy afternoon, the partying in the streets begins again in the town's main square, where a dance floor is often erected for townspeople to dance all evening to the music of a live band. As night falls, patriotic firework salutes light up the sky — an essential modern-day tradition that is the perfect way to end the holiday.

 

The Menu

Traditionally, Bastille Day feasts were enjoyed picnic-style, but nowadays many families prefer to host an al fresco luncheon at home. Just as with any French gathering, Dimnet advices that the wine (French, of course!) should be freely flowing, plenty of good food should be served, and that festive music is playing. When planning the menu, Dimnet always chooses simple bistro fare, like the classic steak frites paired with lighter, vegetable-based dishes such as frisée salad and haricots verts. A delectable dessert like a tarte tatin is the perfect conclusion to the celebratory feast.

Blue, White, and Red

Taking cue from the colors of the French flag, the colors of Bastille Day are “bleu, blanc, rouge” or blue, white, and red (there are no stripes or stars, however). Weave these colors throughout all elements of your party, from the invitations and garlands to how you set the table.

 

Invitations

Keep with the blue, white, and red color theme when selecting your invitations and choose French verbiage when writing the copy. Instead of saying, “You are invited…,” try “Vive La France! You are invited to a Bastille Day Party at Chez (your last name here). Répondez s’il vous plait oui ou non.

 

Attire

Tell your guests to be inspired by the colors of France’s flag, marinière shirts, and Breton sweaters when choosing what to wear. To complete the look, provide French accessories like berets or canotiers, flat straw hats favored by the French during the summer, for your guests to wear once they arrive. 

 

Setting the Scene

When setting the table, start with a checkered red and white or blue and white tablecloth. Place mini French flags in small vases on the buffet table along with red and white flowers, if you’d like.

In lieu of a grand floral centerpiece, put together a board full of French cheeses like Brie, Camembert, Roquefort, and Bucheron and serve it along with French flag toothpicks. Of course, serve the cheese along with fresh baguettes, of course. 

Since you can’t celebrate the holiday in France, bring a bit of France to the table. Print iconic images of Paris (like the Tour d’Eiffel, Notre–Dame, and the Seine) and other regions in France (like fields of lavender in Provence or the French Alps), glue them onto cardboard, and arrange them on the buffet table, at each place setting in lieu of name cards, or around the terrace.

 

Music

A French party is not complete without music! Create a playlist of French favorites, including the traditional Marseillaise and accordion music. Consider chanteuses like Carla Bruni (before she wed Sarkozy) or Vanessa Paradis, or go for contemporary French pop for the background atmosphere. 

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