Bastille Day celebrations or lynch mob?

Driving home from Annecy on Saturday night, I stumbled across a fete in Thônes. It was an early Bastille Day celebration and I was lucky enough to get there at just the right time for the march through town. The brass band started playing and the only lighting was via sticks on fire. I took a video (email subscribers will need to click through to to see the video).

French firemen during 14 July celebrationsWhat you don’t see very clearly on the video is the first lot of marchers without instruments. They’re sapeurs – the firemen who carry axes and wear big, thick, white gloves and everything-proof vinyl aprons. They kind of look like butchers before the blood has stained their uniform. The addition of the axes adds a different dimension altogether. I was unable to capture any decent photos on my phone camera after dark, so I found this photo (with thanks to someone called kaiserdog, who took the photo). These are some of the local Thônes sapeurs.

Maybe you had to be there, but following the parade through town, with men with axes and blood-proof aprons marching to sombre music and others carrying flames, made me feel like I was part of a lynch mob. It just felt weird. A big crowd followed the marching band around town and we ended up almost back where we started before some impressive fireworks took over from band and relieved me of the awkward lynch mob feelings.

The party continued for hours after, and everyone in Thônes was happy to celebrate Bastille Day a few days early. I did it all again last night, with fireworks and a band playing in Saint Jean de Sixt. The big celebrations will hit Annecy tonight, and locals from St Jean and Thônes will no doubt attend. Why celebrate a national day once when you can celebrate it three times?

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I'm a technical author, journalist and writer from Australia who has been living in Europe since 2000 and exploring the world from there. My passions are writing, snow sports and travel.

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4 comments on “Bastille Day celebrations or lynch mob?
  1. I once attended a festival called Zozobra in Santa Fe, New Mexico (USA) which features a giant paper mache man being burned. Witnessing the crowd go mad reminded me of the scene in “King Kong” when the villagers chant and dance, spears in hand, and a frenzy mob rule begins. We visited La Clusaz in 2010 during Bastille and it was surprisingly quiet there. I enjoy your blog!

  2. Wendy says:

    Marie, that sounds both funny and worrying! Yes, La Clusaz seems to think that everyone will go down to Annecy for the big celebrations, so they don’t bother trying to compete. Thanks for letting me know you enjoy my blog too – it’s always nice to hear!

  3. Emily says:

    Thank you for the lovely pictures. I am glad that I am not alone in finding Bastille day a little bit blood-curdling. It’s strange isn’t it?

  4. Wendy says:

    Great fireworks though! 🙂

About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced technical writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Drop by, my other site.

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