“You are going to Bastille Day, right? It’s kinda like what you’d see in America… but better.” – A lovely, French woman I met during a party on the topic of Bastille Day.
“That’s… Impossible.” Yeah, no that is impossible. After I had that conversation with that amazing woman during a party, I just could not stop thinking about what she said or meant. We are loud, proud Americans. When we celebrate our Independence Day on 4th of July, the celebrations are felt throughout the nation. Although not everyone feels that passionately about celebrating, most Americans take care to make the 4th of July special.
When Americans celebrate the 4th of July, we all partake in a national moment. For a day, we come together under the American Flag, break out something to grill, and we celebrate with loved ones. America does not take 4th of July lightly. We also break out the massive fireworks in hopes of expressing our joy with explosives. We seem… united. As if the values of the flag united us despite our differences of before. We seem to rejoice and celebrate under the flag on this special day, and we do so for good reasons. The flag is not a mere piece of cloth. The flag bears many important qualities to it.
However, as I examine the many reasons why we celebrate, a certain truth begins to dawn for me. Just how many people really look at our flag and realize the deeper meaning behind it? How many people comprehend the lives lost to allow us to celebrate in the first place? How many sacrifices have people made, so we can continue our lives in general? While I understand the question seems rather obvious… it may not be. Freedom is not free. Servicemen and women tell me this all the time.
As my team and I walked towards Lac Kir, the big lake of Dijon where Bastille Day is supposed to be held, I could not escape my thoughts. Freedom is not free… Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. This is our sayings. The Declaration of Independence declares that this is our unalienable rights as American citizens.
“Justin we are here.”
“Oh! Right, sorry.” Apparently, I was walking away from Lac Kir. Typical. I generally don’t pay attention when I am lost in thought.
We enter the clearing, but I stop because Lac Kir is gorgeous. Truly, a place worthy for some awesome fireworks, funny stories, and a celebration to “blow me away”. Figuratively and literally.
As we found our seats, I was watching the locals around me. They ran around with fireworks laughing, smiling, and celebrating even before the main event. Their joy, enthusiasm, and genuine happiness made me forget I was in France for a minute. Someone poked me on my sides, and I turned around. “Hey, can you come with me to get drinks please?” my friend asks. “Heck yeah.” We get up and travel to the shop set up near the beach. As we walk, I take note of all the faces I see. Young, old, wealthy, poor, married, single, bikers, police, military, families… Just everyone.
As we got to the beach shop, I stopped to talk to a family because we were debating about the weather for a moment. It had rained a bit earlier, and we thought that perhaps the fireworks would be stopped. He answered me with confidence, “Nah, they will not cancel… rain won’t take away from today.” It was a response that made me think on my way back to my friends too. Did the French treat the 14th of July as seriously as we do our 4th of July?
I had my answer as soon as the voices hushed all around us. Eager eyes focused on the middle of the lake. People were waiting… silent.. in awe. I followed the locals gaze to the grand boxes of fireworks laid in the middle of the lake. “Oh god, that is a lot of explosives…I hope one doesn’t fall and shoot at us, haha!” Clearly, I was joking, but it was A LOT of explosives. As soon as the hissing started, I knew I was in for a show… but with results I never expected.
The first rocket graced the sky as elegantly as a bird taking flight. Had you not paid attention, you would have mistaken the firework for some sort of extremely odd shaped bird… but the explosion caught everyone by surprise. The woods around us actually reverberated by the intensity of the explosion, sending back a roar so loud, you would have thought lightning struck nearby.
The first firework was a brilliant white that covered the entire lake. Then the show truly began. Waves of fireworks scattered across the sky, and they danced across the lake. Fireworks engulfed the sky in lights, color, and noise. I could not look away, but when I did, I looked to the families around me. They were smiling too with their children, and a wave of answers washed up on my overthinking brain.
Freedom is not free. As an American, we are told of our nation’s sacrifices to ensure we are capable of celebrating, living, and more. This is why we treat the 4th of July with such respect, but we are not alone in this endeavor. Nations who fought to secure their own independence like France, gave as much or even more to their cause. They sacrificed so that they too can celebrate, live, and more.
While I understood that concept on paper, living through Bastille Day with the French just hit me as hard. The French establish their own saying as, “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” (Life, Equality, Fraternity) which appeared during the French Revolution. People questioned the saying, but the Third Republic adopted it. They did so as well for good reason, for the French gave up to become independent, so they deserve to state what means the most to them.
Freedom is not free, so we must pay the price to continue to have it. Those lost in the process are heroes whom believed in a cause greater than themselves. While some conflicts can be questionable, even wrong sometimes, we must remind ourselves that it was someone’s son, daughter, father, or mother who went onto that field to ensure that we are capable of being here.
As the fireworks came near to an end, I realized I had my answer. Yes, the French’s Independence Day is as awesome as ours back home. So is the reason why people care so much for this day… because it is not just to celebrate the nation… but to celebrate the ideals that people had given their lives up for. To ensure that our freedoms, liberties, and equalities are granted to us today and tomorrow. We celebrate so we never forget.
As the fireworks came to an end, the time I spent at Lac Kir will never leave me. Thank you, France for allowing me to join you in celebration of the lives, moments, and history of the French people. Thank you for reminding me the importance of being humble and being grateful for those who may no longer be with us… but whose sacrifices ensure that we can live, prosper, and continue onward to the grand future. Merci beacoup. Happy Bastille Day, France.