The Ultimate Guide To Teaching & Learning About Bastille Day

What the heck is Bastille Day? While most teachers are relaxing on vacation right now, there is an important national holiday happening in France on July 14th that might come up for discussion either in classrooms or around the dinner table. Either way, Edudemic has you covered.

Looking for some resources about Bastille Day and perhaps a few technology-based ways to teach / learn about it? Look no further. First though, what the heck is Bastille Day?

What Is Bastille Day?

Quite simply, it’s the French Independence Day. It commemorates the storming of the Bastille, which took place on July 14, 1789 and marked the beginning of the French Revolution. The Bastille was a prison and a symbol of the absolute and arbitrary power of Louis the 16th’s Ancient Regime. By capturing this symbol, the people signaled that the king’s power was no longer absolute: power should be based on the Nation and be limited by a separation of powers.

Although the Bastille only held seven prisoners at the time of its capture, the storming of the prison was a symbol of liberty and the fight against oppression for all French citizens; like the Tricolore flag, it symbolized the Republic’s three ideals: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity for all French citizens.

It marked the end of absolute monarchy, the birth of the sovereign Nation, and, eventually, the creation of the (First) Republic, in 1792. Bastille Day was declared the French national holiday on 6 July 1880, on Benjamin Raspail’s recommendation, when the new Republic was firmly entrenched. Bastille Day has such a strong signification for the French because the holiday symbolizes the birth of the Republic.

As in the US, where the signing of the Declaration of Independence signaled the start of the American Revolution, in France the storming of the Bastille began the Great Revolution. In both countries, the national holiday thus symbolizes the beginning of a new form of government. On the one-year anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, delegates from every region of France proclaimed their allegiance to a single national community during the Fête de la Fédération in Paris – the first time in history that a people had claimed their right to self-determination.

Got it? Now let’s check out a few ways to teach about Bastille Day and how to celebrate it.

Google Map-Based Bastille Day Events

Looking for a Bastille Day-based event near you? Look no further than right here. It’s a mostly updated map that shows lots of events happening around the country (U.S.) but not all events appear to be updated. There are still some 2010 events but it’s certainly worth checking out!

Live Bastille Day Social Media Chats

You can see what people around the world are saying about Bastille Day right here. Whotalking.com is generally a helpful resource for keeping track of what people are saying across most social networks. Rather than searching on Twitter then Facebook then LinkedIn, Whotalking.com does a decent job of aggregating all these streams and presenting them in an easy-to-read format.

Bastille Day Lessons For Kids

If you’re looking for some lesson plans on how to teach about Bastille Day, check this out. Socialstudiesforkids.com has some very boiled down descriptions of Bastille Day along with some great lessons to use if you’re teaching over the summer.

Interactive White Board Lesson

This activity looks at how the 14th July is celebrated in France. Students watch video clips and then use multiple choice cards to decide which answer completes each sentence. They then are presented with facts about how it is celebrated with true / false questions (again using true / false cards). They write sentences on mini whiteboards explaining how the English celebrate Bonfire night before a pairwork discussing their favourite festivals. Homework will be to write about their favourite festival. You’ll need a TES account to access this lesson but click here to get started.

Bastille Day Crayola Coloring Book Pages

Looking to color inside the lines this Summer? Crayola has a few pages of helpful coloring book pages that are perfect for Bastille Day. Check them out here.

Bastille Day E-Cards

Want to remind someone that it’s Bastille Day? There are a few free e-card services that have specially-created cards just for you!

The About.com Guide To Bastille Day

Check out a very helpful article by About.com’s Laura K. Lawless as she has created a concise and useful guide to the French holiday.

Celebrating Bastille Day Around The World

Not everyone has the luxury to zip over to France for Bastille Day on July 14, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate their version of an independence day right from your home town. Check out these top ways to honor Bastille Day close to home:

  • Visit a local Alliance Francaise
    These are wonderful resources, and you can almost be certain your local alliance has Bastille Day festivities planned. For instance, the San Francisco alliance is hosting a “curbside bistro” featuring food and wine.
  • Check out area French restaurants
    Any self-respecting French restaurant is sure to be honoring the Bastille Day holiday. Call your local French restaurant and find out what they have planned. Besides, it’s just one more excuse to treat yourself to a fine French meal and great wine.
  • Consult the Union of French Chambers Of Commerce & Industry Abroad
    There are French chambers of commerce around the globe. Go to the UCCIFE nearest you, which might be hosting events themselves. If not, you can certainly learn about local businesses that might have something planned.
  • Throw a party
    Who says you need to count on someone else having Bastille Day events? If all else fails and there is simply nothing happening near you, just grab some wine, cheese, crackers and a few pals and have your own tres francais party.

Pictures of Bastille Day, Past and Present

Want to get a more visual sense of how Bastille Day celebrations and ceremonies unfold? Check out these pictures of Bastille Day to see images from as far back as the original storming of the Bastille in 1789.

Traditional Bastille Day Activities

  • Fireworks are almost always on the menu in Paris Bastille Day celebrations, and usually light up the skies at around nightfall. Often launched in the vicinity of the Eiffel Tower, the Saint Germain des Près district, and around Montparnasse, fireworks displays can be enjoyed from other spots around the city, providing you are high up enough to get a good vantage. Some suggested spots are the viewpoint from the roof of the Centre Georges Pompidou, Montmartre, or Belleville.
  • The Bal du 14 juillet is a giant dance party traditionally held on the Place de la Bastille (where the stormed prison once stood)on the evening before Bastille Day (July 13th). A different theme is chosen each year, usually providing an opportunity to don elaborate costumes and hear live music.
  • A traditional military parade on the Champs-Elysées starts near the Arc de Triomphe on the famed Avenue on the afternoon of July 14th and spreads across Paris. A moving tribute, or pomp and circumstance? A matter of taste.
  • Firemens’ Galas: France has a unique– and quirky– tradition of firehouses opening their doors to the general public on July 13th and 14th for the occasion of Bastille day, offering live demonstrations and dancing. Kitschy fun guaranteed. Donations are generally asked for at the door.

Share Your Resources!

Do you know of a little-known fact about Bastille Day or a celebration that might interest others? Let me know down in the comments or by mentioning @edudemic on Twitter and I’ll be happy to update this resource. Thanks!