Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘French holidays’

No. 255-257: French Mother’s Day: Repopulation, Advice from Vichy France and Cake

“L’avenir d’un enfant est l’oeuvre de sa mere.” (The future of a child is the work of his mother.)

                        -Napoleon Bonaparte


While Mother’s Day in America was first officially celebrated in 1914 after Anna Jarvas campaigned for six long years for a day to honor “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world,” Mother’s Day in France came to be celebrated with slightly more practical and economic intentions behind it: the necessity to repopulate a country distressed by its declining birth rate.


In fact, French Mother’s Day was first instituted with an award attached to it for producing a high number of children. In 1906, a medal of haut mérite maternel (high maternal merit) was awarded to mother’s who had more than nine children. By 1918, some cities in France had established les Journée Nationale des Mères de Familles Nombreuses (National Day for Mother’s of Large Families), and in 1920 it became an official national holiday celebrated on the last Sunday of May. From the 1920s through 1940 the French government continued to support the holiday to help officially promote and reward large family policy and honor those mothers’ with the ability and desire to pop out baby after baby.

During the reign of the Vichy government, in an attempt to win favor with all mothers, the occupational government (while still actively promoting large family policies), extended the holiday to honor all mothers, even those with smaller families. After the war ended, Mother’s Day gradually became less attached to politics and nationalism, and became more of a day to celebrate your fabulous do-it-all mom.

While I was researching the history of French Mother’s Day, I came across this poster from 1941 Vichy France offering advice on how French children should behave on Mother’s Day and throughout the year, according to the field marshal, no less…


Ta maman a tout fait pour toi, le Maréchal te demande de l’en remercier gentiment.

Invente la surprise la plus belle que tu pourras, celle qui lui fera le plus grand plaisir.

Offre-lui des fleurs que tu auras cueillies…

ou un cadeau que tu auras fabriqué exprès pour elle…

Fais-lui un dessin aussi beau que tu pourras…

Fais un effort en classe pour rapporter de bonnes notes…

Ne te dispute pas avec tes frères et sœurs…

Va faire les commissions sans qu’elle te le demande…

Aide au ménage en souriant…

Apprends une jolie récitation…



(Your mom has done everything for you, the field marshal asks you to thank her kindly.

Come up with the most beautiful surprise you can that will give her the greatest pleasure…

Offers her flowers that you picked …or a gift you have made especially for her …

Draw her the nicest picture you can …

Make an effort in class to make good grades …

Do not fight with your brothers and sisters …

Run errands without her asking …

Help with the household with a smile…

Learn a beautiful recitation …

(Remember) Work-Family-Homeland)


…and finally in France, fête your lovely mother with a gorgeous cake from your kitchen or pâtisserie that looks like a bouquet of flowers or something too delicious to be true.

source: Meeting the French

source: Meeting the French

 Bonne fête des mères!


No. 212: Lundi de Pâques


Another one of the things I love about France is the country’s dedication to national holidays, especially in the springtime.

While most of my friends and family stateside are back at work today, us lucky folks in France are quietly enjoying Easter Monday sans travail. I remember envying my friends who had kids in Catholic schools when we lived in the Wild West, their children never seemed to be in school.

Now that we live in France, we don’t have to play hooky from school, we can, even as lapsed Catholics, benefit from the excess of sanctioned religious and national holidays during April and May. This is a particularly good year as all the “one-off” spring holidays fall during the week. In fact we only have one full week of school/work during the month of May.

And as I mentioned, today, Easter Monday, is actually a national holiday in this Catholic nation, so even if you’re not a believer, you still get to spend today recovering from the holiday, sort of a vacation from your vacation, which in my opinion is the best way to end a vacation.


Lundi de Pâques: Easter Monday

sans travail: without work

No. 195: Poisson d’Avril


If you happen to be in France on April 1, beware of the fish.  Yes indeed, if you let yourself be duped or tricked, you’re not just a fool, but you’re also a poisson d’avril, or an April fish.

The jury is still out as to why you are a fish en français instead of just a fool, but so far this morning, I’ve already seen a bus full of prankster in my ‘hood, and they were all quite fishy-looking.

Out early with Taz, I spied a group of grade school children bounding off their coach and making merry, gamely tumbling over each other while trying to pin cut out paper fish on each others’ backs. Despite their teachers’ stern disciplinary warnings, les enfants could not help themselves, as fiendish squawks of “Poisson d’Avril” escaped their mugs announcing their foolery to the passing tourists.

I’ve always wondered about April Fools’ Day. As far as I know it is the only holiday dedicated specifically to hoodwinking your gullible friends and unsuspecting family members. For me, the French-fish-thing adds a whole new dimension to this goofy day.

There are several theories about where the fish imagery came from in relation to the first day of April en France, and they go from the simple to the more complex:

  • The most basic theory is that “April fish” simply refers to a young fish, or those easily caught (in a hoax);
  • While others reason that as April 1 falls within the Lenten season, the fish depict Christ, who was sometimes represented as a fish in early Christian times.
  • Still others insist that it is only the pagan Zodiac sign of Pisces (also a fish) falling during the month of April, that has led to all this fishy trickery.
  • But the historians, well they pin it all on King Charles IX of France and his edict to reform the calendar system and move the start of the year from the first day of April to the first day of January. As the story goes, the masses were either uninformed or resistant to this change, and continued to celebrate the New Year on April 1. Eventually they were mocked and made the butt of jokes by those who conformed to the new calendar. (Said jokes included: pretending to make a neighborly New Year’s calling on April 1 complete with a fresh Lenten fish to share, thus making a fool of those who accepted the gift and did not comply with the changing times and calendar.) In later centuries, this little joke changed to surreptitiously hooking a paper fish on the backs of those naive characters stubbornly hanging on to the past.


No matter the uncertainty behind all this French fishiness, there is one thing you can always be certain of in France. The French, God bless them all, cannot celebrate a holiday without some sort of beautiful and delicious food or pastry attached to it. The Poisson d’Avril is no exception. En ce moment, French pâtisseries, boulangeries, and chocolateries are currently filled to the brim with fish-themed and fish-shaped delights.

Hmmm…me thinks we might be having fish for dinner tonight…probably not salmon, but maybe something of the cocoa bean variety?


No. 39: Les Vacances

Just freshly back from the Toussaint holiday, it’s clear that one of the 365 things any sane person would love about France is les vacances. The French do vacation right. I don’t think it is an overstatement to say that the French are always on holiday. They truly are.

On the books, France has just one public holiday for which workers are guaranteed a paid day off every year — Labor Day on May 1; mais in reality, most French workers enjoy 11 national jours fériés per year.  During the month of May alone there is a holiday nearly every week. In addition to national holidays, France has one of the most generous vacation policy, mandating a minimum of 30 paid days off per year…which you would think would be enough, but the way the school calendar shakes out, it would appear that even with 41 days off per year, most parents must have to either take time off without pay, or pay for a lot of extra daycare. (Take a look at this school calendar. Blue means vacation–and doesn’t include all the of the extra national holidays. Just look at all that blue!)

school holiday calendar for France, zone C (Paris and environs)

school holiday calendar for France, zone C (Paris and environs)

At Button’s French bilingual school, she follows a schedule of roughly 6-8 weeks on, with 2 weeks off, with a handful of other holidays scattered throughout.

Meanwhile, the average US worker receives a scant 16 paid vacation days and holidays combined. In fact according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “the US is the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t require employers to offer paid vacation time.” C’est fou! Contrast these two scenarios and you can understand why les vacances ranks high on my list of things I love about France.


I don’t think the French will ever budge when it comes to their right to holiday–to them vacation is sacred. France nearly shuts down in the summer as the entire population takes the entire month of July or August (or sometimes both) off. What’s even better, as far as I can tell, is that the French jamais, jamais, jamais, take their work on the road. Vacation is vacation. There is no place for work while on holiday. Indeed the French have co-opted a verb (rentrer) and turned it into a noun with a BIG “r” :  la Rentrée, to describe the en mass homecoming when families return from vacation at the end of August and kids head back to school.

Alors, as long as I am lucky enough to live in France, I will continue to be faithful to the saying “à Rome, fais comme les Romains.” Vive les vacances!!


à Rome, fais comme les Romains: In Rome, do as the Romans

C’est fou! That’s crazy!

jamais, jamais, jamais: never, never, never

jours fériés: holidays

la Rentrée: THE homecoming (after the summer hols)

les vacances: vacation

mais: but

rentrer: to return (home)

Toussaint: All Saints (Day/Holiday period)

Vive les vacances! Long live vacation!!