May in France starts as it means to go on, with a bank holiday. The rest of the month follows suit with an array of days off to be enjoyed by the French. With some of them, it is also possible to “do the bridge”… but what does that mean? Here is our guide about all bank holidays happening in May in France this year, so you don’t turn up at work for nothing…
1st May: May Day (or Fête du Travail) in France
May Day in France is called Fête du Travail (“Labour Day”) or Fête du Muguet (“Lily of the Valley Day”) as it is a unique mix of workers and spring traditions. Like in many other countries, Labour Day, celebrated on 1st May, is in honour of the workers. French people use this time off to see their families and friends, but it is also a day of important meetings and marches for trade unions.
1st May is also a day when people celebrate spring. Many people go and pick lilies of the valley (“muguet”) from their garden or in the forest to offer them to people they like, as a gesture of appreciation – they can be friends and family, but also neighbours, colleagues or teachers. Many people also sell lilies of the valley on the road sides or on the main squares. This is the only day anyone can sell flowers without having to pay tax to the government. This tradition was originally a solidarity event to assist unemployed people.
8th May: Victory in Europe Day in France
Victory in Europe Day, celebrated on 8th May, is called “Fête de la Victoire” or simply “Fête du 8 mai”. It commemorates the end of World War II and the people who lost their lives and fought for victory. Traditionally, the French president will lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier and light its flame at the foot of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. That day, commemorative events and marches take place all around France, like children laying wreaths at the war memorial of their village.
30th May: Ascension Day in France
Ascension Day, simply called “l’Ascension”, is a movable public holiday, as it has to happen 40 days after Easter, on a Thursday. This is a catholic tradition, so it is mainly celebrated with church services. For many people who are not practicing, it is simply a day to be enjoyed with friends and family around a good meal. Ascension is particularly liked by all French people as it happens on a Thursday and is a good opportunity to “faire le pont” (literally “do the bridge”), which consists in taking the Friday off to have a four-day weekend. It is up to the employers, schools and universities whether they close and give the Friday as a free holiday. In 2019, Ascension Day will take place on 30th May.
Note that most shops, banks, offices, schools, post offices, and some restaurants are closed on bank holidays in France.