SHARE
COPY LINK
For members

LIVING IN FRANCE

Why is Ascension Day a public holiday in France?

Thursday May 9th marks the Christian feast of Ascension - which means a day off work and this year also gives a rare 'double holiday'. But why is it a public holiday in France?

Why is Ascension Day a public holiday in France?
Photo by ERIC FEFERBERG / AFP

This year Thursday, May 9th marks Ascension. May 8th is always a public holiday in France (marking VE Day or the end of World War II in Europe) but Ascension varies its dates. That means that 2024 is a rare ‘double holiday’ with both Wednesday and Thursday days off work for most people.

Many French people have also taken the opportunity to ‘faire le pont‘ (do the bridge) and use a single day of annual leave to take Friday off work, giving themselves a lovely five-day break.

The festival, which Christians believe marks the day that Jesus ascended into heaven, is always 40 days after Easter Sunday, which is why its exact date varies from year to year.

READ ALSO Why 2024 (especially May) is a very good year for holidays in France

But why does France give people a day off work on this day?

Ascension is actually a holiday in quite a few European countries – Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Nordic countries get a day off, although Spain, Italy and the UK do not.

This is one of France’s oldest public holidays, stretching all the way back to the Ancien régime – the period before the revolution of 1792 – when it would be widely celebrated as a Christian holiday in the French countryside.

After the Revolution, the new government tried to do away with all religious holidays and replace them with secular ones. As well as their most famous act of toppling the monarchy, France’s first revolutionary government introduced all sorts of changes to everyday life.

Some of these – like the switch to metric measurements – stuck, while others (like renaming the months of the year and introducing a new calendar) were swiftly abandoned.

The idea of losing a popular holiday went down about as well as you would expect and in 1801 Napoleon signed a Concordat which re-instated the biggest festivals of the Christian calendar as public holidays; Christmas, Easter, Ascension, All Saints’ Day and Assumption (the August 25th festival which marks the day that the Virgin Mary died and ascended into heaven).

Since then the holiday calendar has been regularly reorganised and altered but the ‘big five’ of the Christian festivals remain holidays.

Several secular holidays have also been added to the calendar – including the Fête nationale on July 14th, marking the storming of the Bastille and the beginning of the French revolution, plus days to make the end of WWI (November 11th) and WWII in Europe (May 8th).   

READ ALSO Will May 8th remain a public holiday in France?

Although there are church services dedicated to Ascension, you won’t see religious parades or other big events, and all in all this is one of the more low-key holidays of the year. 

The question of why France, as a legally secular country that has a strict separation between religion and government, marks Christian holidays is one often asked by foreigners. The answer seems to be simple pragmatism – no government has been willing to risk the wrath of the French by telling them they must forgo their days off work. 

Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

Member comments

  1. 15 August is also the Birthday of Napoleon Bonaparte, almost certainly making it mandatory to include the Feast of the Assumption in the French National Holidays decreed by his government.

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

LIVING IN FRANCE

The ‘French values’ that foreign residents must respect

People requesting French residency cards must now sign a contract promising to 'respect the values of the French Republic' - from sexual equality to the Marseillaise via proselytising, here's what you're actually agreeing to.

The 'French values' that foreign residents must respect

Several sections of France’s new immigration law are now in force, including the new ‘contract to respect the values of the republic’.

This requirement, which is now in effect, will apply to most foreigners in France – from students and workers to those with the ‘visitor status’. There are very few exemptions. 

READ MORE: French immigration law: New carte de séjour rules now in force

On a practical level, the contract is just another piece of paper that you need to sign when you’re applying for or renewing a residency card – and refusing to do so means that your permit will not be granted.

The law is largely intended to target foreigners who have become radicalised – such as radical Islamists – and those who represent a serious threat to public safety, but the requirement covers anyone who needs a carte de séjour residency card (with the exception of those few exempt groups listed here).

But what are you actually agreeing to?

The contents of the contract are meant to focus on respect for “personal freedom, freedom of expression and conscience, equality between women and men, the dignity of the human person and the motto and symbols of the Republic as defined in article 2 of the Constitution”.

Below is the full text (in French) and you can also download it here;

The new ‘Republican contract’. Screenshot from the Journal Officiel.

The first segment reads (in English):

“France has welcomed me onto its soil. As part of my application for the issue or renewal of a residence document, I solemnly undertake to respect the principles of the French Republic defined below.

“I undertake to respect personal freedom, freedom of expression and conscience, equality between men and women and human dignity, the motto and symbols of the Republic within the meaning of Article 2 of the Constitution, the integrity of French borders, and not to to use my beliefs or convictions as an excuse to disregard the common rules governing relations between the public services and private individuals.”

Then come seven ‘engagements’ that the person signing the contract would agree to, including things like promising to not discriminate based on sex, to respect people equally regardless of their sexual orientation, as well as to respect symbols of France including the national anthem and the flag.

READ MORE: La Marseillaise: All you need to know about the French national anthem

The seven engagements

Commitment no. 1: Respect for personal freedom

  • I promise to respect every individual’s private life and the privacy of their home and communications.
  • I promise to respect each person’s freedom to come and go and not to hinder in any way their ability to communicate with others.
  • I promise to respect each person’s freedom to choose their spouse.

Commitment no. 2: Respect for freedom of expression and conscience

  • I promise to refrain from any act of proselytising performed under duress, threat or pressure, with the aim of making another person adhere to my values, principles, opinions or convictions, my religion or my beliefs.
  • I promise not to obstruct, by coercion, threat or pressure, any person’s expression of their values, principles, opinions or convictions, religion or beliefs.

Commitment no. 3: Respect for equality between women and men

  • I promise not to adopt any sexist attitude and therefore not to discriminate against anyone on the grounds of sex.
  • In any public office, I promise not to disrupt the running of the service and to behave in the same way towards public servants, whether they are men or women.

Commitment no. 4: Respect for human dignity

  • I promise to respect the laws and regulations in force designed to protect the health and physical and mental well-being of every person.
  • I promise to respect the equal dignity of all human beings, without discrimination of any kind, whether that be based on their origins, their opinions or religion, and to respect the sexual orientation of each person.
  • I promise not to create, maintain or exploit the psychological or physical vulnerability of another person, regardless of my relationship to that person.
  • I promise not to undertake any action likely to compromise the physical, emotional, intellectual and social development of minors, or their health and safety.

Commitment no. 5: Respect for the motto and symbols of the Republic

  • I promise to respect the motto of the Republic, which is “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity”.
  • I promise not to publicly insult the national anthem, the “Marseillaise”, or the national emblem: the tricolour flag.
  • I promise not to provoke such reprehensible acts.

Commitment no. 6: Respect for the territorial integrity of France

  • I promise that I will not challenge – by actions likely to disturb public order, by inciting such actions or by participating in foreign interference – the authenticity of France’s borders and the sovereignty it exercises over its territory, both in mainland France and overseas.

Commitment no. 7: Respect for the principle of secularism

  • Within public buildings and offices, I promise not to challenge the legitimacy of a public official or demand that the operation of a public service or public facility be adapted on the basis of my own religious beliefs or considerations.
SHOW COMMENTS