It seems that the majority of French public holidays (jours fériés) fall in May, and always when we want to go shopping!
We were caught out the other day when we decided to make an early start and head into Chateauroux, only to find that most businesses were shut. At least some of the major shops were open but I was rather annoyed with myself for slipping up like that (again!)
Religious holidays are not on fixed dates, so you have to check when they fall in any particular year, but for 2012 the May public holidays were/are:
May 1st: Fête du Travail or what Aussies would call Labour Day, celebrating the 8-hour working day. It is also La Fête du Muguet when it’s traditional to give lily of the valley flowers to those you love to celebrate spring (printemps) and you will see road-side stalls selling little posies as fundraisers.
May 8th: Fête de la Victoire 1945 or Victory Day (aka V-E Day) – commemorates the end of World War 2 in Europe – and floral wreaths are placed at war monuments in memory of the fallen.
May 17th: L’Ascension or Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter, celebrates Jesus’ ascent to Heaven. It’s always on a Thursday so many French “make the bridge” and take the Friday off to have an extra-long weekend, just like so many Melbournians do by taking the Monday off before Cup Day.
10 days later on May 27th is Pentecôte, the Day of Pentecost (or Whit Sunday) when you may hear trumpets sounding in churches to mimic the sound of the rush of wind as the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples of Jesus and enabled them to communicate in other languages.
Monday 28th: Lundi de Pentecôte is the Monday of Pentecost or Whit Monday, and is always the 7th Monday after Easter.
It’s worth pointing out that Good Friday is not a public holiday in France, something that surprised and confused us, so take a tip from me and never make assumptions!
Here’s a handy link for checking out public holidays all over the world: http://www.officeholidays.com/countries/default.asp