July 14, Bastille Day, is recognized as a national holiday in France. The French celebrate Bastille Day in manners very similar to American celebrations of the 4th of July: they attend large scale public displays of fireworks, enjoy military and civilian parades, share communal meals with friends and family, and engage in dances and parties.
On July 14, 1789, when a group of enraged Parisians stormed and took the Bastille in order to secure the arms and ammunition stored there, their success marked a pivotal moment in the early stages of the French Revolution. Though originally built as a medieval fortress and prison, the Bastille was largely unused in this manner in the late 1780s and was actually scheduled to be demolished. In the minds of the French peasant class, however, it was still a potent symbol of the aristocratic rule under which they felt mistreated by the Bourbon monarchy of the late 1700s.
Bastille Day was declared an official holiday by the French government in 1880 and there have been celebratory military parades in Paris every year ever since, except during World War II. From 1940 to 1944, free French forces honored the date with marches in London, England.
When France hosted the World Cup soccer tournament in 1998, the French national team added to the country-wide celebration by winning the world championship just two days before Bastille Day.