For members


Why is Ascension Day a public holiday in France?

Thursday May 18th marks the Christian feast of Ascension - which means a day off work and a chance to 'faire le pont'. But why is it a public holiday in France?

Why is Ascension Day a public holiday in France?

This year Thursday, May 18th marks Ascension, making this a three-day week for the many workers in France who take the opportunity to ‘do the bridge’ and create a nice long weekend.

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

READ ALSO Why 2023 (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 day’s 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 by 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.

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For members


Can foreigners in France be called up for jury service?

Juries are used in the majority of criminal trials in France and can sometimes involve foreign jurors. Here's what you need to know.

Can foreigners in France be called up for jury service?

Can foreign residents in France be called up to be a jury?

In order to be called for jury duty, you must hold French citizenship, so foreign nationals in France who have gained French citizenship are eligible to be called up.

If you simply a resident in France with a valid residency permit you cannot be called for jury duty.

Aside from holding French nationality, there are some other criteria you must meet as well in order to be called up.

  • Be over 23-years-old;
  • Know how to read and write in French;
  • Have never been found guilty of a crime or délit (less serious, mid-level offense);
  • Not be under someone’s care and legal responsibility (sous tutelle) because of a physical or mental disability; 
  • Not be a civil servant stripped of their function;
  • Not be a member of government, parliamentarian, magistrate or member of the police, prisons authority or gendarmerie. 

Anyone who has a personal relationship (family, friends, romantic partners) to the accused, the plaintiff, their lawyers, court interpreters, witnesses or one of the magistrates, cannot serve as jurors. 

How good does your French need to be?

Although the Justice Ministry has not published guidelines as to what level of French jurors will require, Maître Sabine Haddad, a Paris-based lawyer, has written that if you believe you do not “master the French language”, you can request not to take up jury duty via a signed letter addressed to the court (a demande de dispense). 

It is assumed that the vast majority of jurors selected will speak French fluently, given that most of them will have been raised in France. And legal language can be complicated for French people as well as foreigners who have spent years living in the country. 

When would a jury be used?

In France there are two kinds of criminal courts.

Every département has a cours d’assises which is a criminal court dealing with serious crimes that can carry a sentence of more than 20 years in prison (like rape, murder and armed robbery). Jurors – or jurés, in French – work alongside professional magistrates during cours d’assises proceedings to decide whether the accused is guilty or not.

Other criminal offenses that can carry a sentence of between 15-20 years are judged in a kind of criminal courts known as a cour criminelle. No jurors are involved in these proceedings. 

How are jurors selected?

Jurors are randomly selected from the electoral list of the commune in which they live. If you have been chosen at this stage, you will be informed. 

Each commune sends a list of names the the départemental cour d’assises when requested. The court then removes profiles that don’t meet the eligibility requirements, have already served as a juror in the last five years, or who for other reasons are unfit to serve as a juror. 

A special commission then examines the demandes de dispense – or requests to avoid jury duty – from those chosen during the initial random selection. 

A second selection of 45 jurors is then made and those to have been named as jurors can then be called to preside over a session of the court. Each case normally features 6 first choice jurors and 9 back-up jurors who are once again selected at random the shortlist of 45. 

Is there any way to get out of jury duty?

If you don’t turn up to jury duty without a legitimate reason (motif légitime) you can be fined 3,750. 

To avoid jury duty, you must deliver a signed letter to the court explaining why. This letter is known as a demande de dispense and must be delivered to court before September 1st ideally. If not, you must attend the first day of the hearing and provide evidence as to why you cannot serve as a juror. 

Legitimate reasons include:

  • Being over 70-years-old;
  • No living in the département where the cour d’assises is located as your principal residence;
  • Having difficulties that will prevent you from attending court, such as serious illness, an ill child or deafness. 

As already mentioned, lawyers say you can also use non-mastery of the French language as an excuse. 

Do jurors get paid? 

The average jury duty lasts about 15 working days, during which you must remain available. 

If you work in the private sector, your contract is suspended for the duration of the court session – your employer has the obligation to provide you with a document that proves your salary and any further evidence that can demonstrate how you will be losing money during your leave (this can be used later to claim compensation). If you work in the public sector, you are automatically granted a leave of absence. 

The financial compensation you receive depends on whether you work in the private or public sector.

Private sector jurors receive a flat fee of €96.16 per day. If their employer decides to keep paying them while they are on jury duty, they can accumulate this fee alongside their normal salary. The fee counts towards a juror’s annual taxable income. 

If a private sector worker is not remunerated by their employer during jury duty, they are eligible for further compensation of up to €90.16 per day, alongside the initial €96.16. Both payments must be requested directly from the court

Public sector employees receive the €96.16 per day alongside their normal salary. 

You can also apply for money to cover costs of food, accommodation and transport while you are on jury duty. The amount you will receive depends on a variety of factors including where you live and what mode of transport you use. A full guide is available here

Your employer has a legal obligation to let you complete jury duty. 

What is the role of a juror?

Jurors receive a small amount of training before presiding over a case – or more often than not, multiple cases during a single court session. The court president and prosecutor will explain your responsibilities and you will also be asked to watch a short film. Often, jurors will be offered the chance to visit a prison too. 

When the trial begins, you will be asked to sit in on hearings and listen to deliberations from the judges. After this, you will take part in secret votes alongside other jurors and the magistrates. The first vote is on whether or not the suspect is guilty and the second is on the severity of the sentence. 

How you vote is entirely up to you. 

Jurors are expected to be attentive, impartial and discrete. You are not supposed to talk about the case with people outside the courtroom. And you must not reveal any final decision before the day of sentencing – doing so could land you with a €15,000 fine and a year in prison.