An explanation of the public holidays in France in May
May is usually considered a month full of public holidays in France, when little business gets done. There can be up to four: 1st of May Labour Day, 8th of May VE Day, Ascension and Pentecôte (Whit Monday), but some years as few as one.
This seemingly odd situation comes about because French public holidays are taken on specific dates which if they happen to fall on a weekend, bad luck! There are no days in lieu. Add to this that Ascension and Pentecôte are both a certain number of days after Easter and as Easter changes date each year it needs to be early for Pentecôte to be in May. Sometimes it’s in June. So some years you can get the 1st and 8th of May on a Sunday and Pentecôte in June leaving only Ascension, which is always on a Thursday, seeing as it comes 40 days after Easter Sunday.
However, most Mays there are more than one and the French have a particular way of ensuring long weekends. They “make the bridge”. This means if the holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday it is common to take off the Monday or Friday from work to make a 4 day weekend out of it. This tradition is called “faire le pont” (make the bridge). Some businesses actually insist their employees do this and close up for the 4 days including my older son’s school. His is the only school in the area that takes all the “ponts” much to the jealousy of his little brother who only gets Ascension.
So what are all these holidays about? The 1st of May is international labour day and people give each other lily of the valley. To find out more about this take a look at the post dedicated to it here. The 8th of May is Victory in Europe Day (VE Day), marking the day the Allies accepted the German defeat in World War II. It is remembered all over France with ceremonies at war memorials, wreaths laid and flags out on public buildings. The photos here are all taken in Cannes.
Ascension and Pentecôte are both Catholic holidays. The Ascension holiday refers to when Jesus was taken up to Heaven in his resurrected body 40 days after the resurrection, illustrated above in a church stained glass window. Pentecôte (Pentecost/Whitsun) commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ’s disciples across the Christian faith. Being on a Monday there is never a possibility of a “pont” but neither can it fall on a weekend, guaranteeing a 3 day weekend.
So that’s it – May, the month of bridges. From a business point of view, it’s a fairly hopeless month, but for holidays and weekend travel breaks, it’s great. On the Côte d’Azur, May is also the month of the Monaco Grand Prix and the Cannes Film Festival, which makes it feel festive and really like the start of the summer season. I love May!
Do you have more public holidays in one month than others where you are? Do you have plans for a long weekend? Do you/would you “take the bridge”? I’d love to hear from you.
photo of stained glass window from WikimediaCommons