6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Go To France In May: French Holidays Explained!

Don't go to France in May! French holidays explained

True story: It’s some random day in May. You’re newly arrived to France and the sun is shining so you decide to take a leisurely stroll and find a café to sit and watch the world go by. Too bad everything is closed and you have no idea why. Dazed, confused and annoyed, we went home and did a little research only to discover we were in the middle of one of 6 possible holidays in France that occur during the month of May which wouldn’t be so bad except for the fact that many things are closed. Here are the holidays and what to expect.

Why you may not want to come to France in May

Besides being the month of my birthday, May is also special because you can observe or celebrate up to 6 separate holidays. I don’t think any other month has as many separate holidays or celebrations as the month of May in France. If you have kids in school then you also get the extra special 2 week spring break where kids don’t go to school. 

I suppose all these holidays can be culturally interesting and great if you need a day off from work or school in France. However it can put the average tourist or unknowing and newly arrived French expat in a bit of a predicament.

What happens on French public holidays?

 Everything except crucial services come to a complete halt or have special modified hours. If you are in a big city like Paris, things may be open but you should always call or check websites for any tourist things you may want to do.

  • You might not be able to get around:

    • Buses and some trains run on a modified less frequent time schedule.
    • You can’t pick up or send packages: Post offices are closed.
  • You can’t go to the bank:

    • Banks are closed
  • You may not be able to eat out either:

    • Restaurants may be closed on a public holiday like labour day or be booked up on observed celebrations like mothers day.
  • You may starve:

    • Grocery stores are either closed or close at noon so if you are staying in a hotel, you may not be able to eat out. If you live in France, you may need to go into your reserve stock of food no one wants to eat.
  • Kids have no school:

    • If  your kids go to school while you live and work in France, you will need to book child care for the kids in advance. Otherwise you will have to keep the kids home with you. Not a problem for us, since we have home offices.

 

So what exactly are these days and what do you do?

I’ve written about every holiday in past posts but below is a brief over view of all the possible holidays you may come across in the month of May.

The first two public holidays in May actually fall on the same day — the 1st of May. They are May day and Labour day which used to be two separate holidays in France but have been combined into one.Don't go to France in May: French holidays Labour day and May day. 2 of 6 possible holidays

1- May 1st: Labour day / International Workers Day:

Called La Fête du travail ( 1st of May): Public holiday

On this day don’t expect anything to be open. It is however a good day to take advantage of acrobranching which is a combination of zip lining and climbing trees.

2-May 1st: May Day in English:

Called La Fête du Muguet:  Public holiday

On this day, make sure you buy your loved ones *read your wife, female friends and loved ones, a muguet flower, called Lily flower in English.

Click here to read what I wrote about this combined holiday.

3- 8th of May: Victory in Europe Day:

Called la Fête de la Victoire. Public holiday

Don't go to France in May: French holidays Victory in Europe Day: How its celebrated in France 3 of 6 possible holidays

The 8th of  May 1945 is an important holiday to many European countries because it marks the official end of the second World War and the end of Nazi Germany.  You can read more about it here.

4 – Ascension Day: 39 days after Easter Sunday

Called Ascension: Public Holiday

Don't go to France in May! Ascension Day 4 of 6 French holiday

Ascension day is on a  movable date, falling on a Thursday exactly 39 days after Easter. It usually occurs near the end of May but can occur as late as the 3rd of June.

Ascension is the day that Jesus ascended to heaven following his crucifixion and resurrection. Many French people attend a special church service but many people also just use this day to spend time with family and loved ones. Because this day falls on a Thursday, people often take an extra long weekend from work. You can read more about it on this post I wrote about Ascension.

5- Mothers Day: Last Sunday of May

Called Fête des Mères: Observed holiday

Don't go to France in May! Mothers day Day 5 of 6 French holiday

Technically mothers day is an observed holiday and not a public holiday. Restaurants and florist shops that would normally be closed are open for mothers day. If you do plan on eating out, make sure you check to see if you need a reservation at those restaurants and be aware that they might have a fixed menu at higher prices.

Like Mothers day in the US and Canada, mothers day is on a movable date-the last Sunday of May and not on the 2nd Sunday of May like in the US and Canada.

6- Pentecost Monday also known as Whit Monday: 50 days after Easter Sunday

Called Lundi de Pentecôte: Public Holiday

Don't go to France in May! Pentecost Monday aka whit Monday 6 of 6 French holiday

Pentecost Monday is the day after Pentecost which falls exactly 50 days after Easter Sunday. Like ascension day, Whit Monday is another religious based holiday which has a movable date and can occur in either May or June.

Many people spend Pentecost Monday quietly in the company of friends and family or enjoy a picnic in the park.  You can read more about Pentecost Monday on this post I wrote.

Conclusion

When I said don’t go to France in May, I was just being dramatic. By all means do go to France in May but be especially mindful that the days you have planned excursions and outing are not official holidays where services you need will be closed.  If ever in doubt, you can always check this wiki page to see what days each holiday is on.

About the Author

Annie André Is a half Thai, half French Canadian/American freelance writer, digital marketer and FOUNDER OF THE LIVE IN FRANCE GUIDE which features travel tips, food, festivals, photography and more from France. Annie currently lives in France with her husband and three children.

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