Armistice Day, celebrated on November 11, marks the end of World War I. Originally a day to honor those who had served in World War I, the day became a way to remember all who served and died for France in various wars. In France, a country greatly involved in World Wars I and II, it is a day for solemn reflection on the hundreds of thousands of lives lost defending France, and in gratitude of their service.
So what do the French do on Armistice Day?
One Minute of Silence
In France, as in many other nations, at precisely 11 o’clock in the morning November 11th, the nation pauses for a moment of silence. During this time, people reflect on the many sacrifices made by the brave men and women who fought in France’s wars and who died for their country.
Many rites and rituals are held at the great French battlefields. Each solemn ceremony may be slightly different. Soldiers dressed in formal military attire may march in parade formation. Veterans that fought in other wars, such as World War II, may participate as well.
Le Bleuet de France
While in other European countries, the poppy reigns as the most common symbol of veterans, memory and solidarity, in France we see the bleuet, or the cornflower. Both cornflowers and poppies continued to grow in the battlefields despite the violent conflict all around. Now, live bleuets or cornflower badges are made from paper are sold nationwide. President François Holland wears the bleuet on his lapel during the ceremony.
Ceremonies throughout France may also take place at war memorials. These statues or memorials are scattered in towns throughout France. Flowers, wreaths, and special garlands may be left to remember the fallen. In Paris, the tomb of the unknown soldier lies under the Arc de Triomphe, where a flame burns year-round. Every year, in a nationally televised ceremony, the French president lays a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier, revives the flame in the presence of the French armed forces, and calls for a minute of silence at 11am precisely.
This Year’s Events
This year’s events had special significance because 2014 is the 100th anniversary of the First World War’s start. Tuesday was the 96th anniversary of the armistice that ended the war on Nov. 11, 1918.
President Francois Hollande hosted German and British officials for events in France. The dignitaries stood shoulder to shoulder, representing the solidarity of the new European Union.
President Hollande later headed to northern France to inaugurate a brand new international war memorial on the former battlefields of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. The Ring of Memory carries the names of the 600,000 soldiers, regardless of nationality, who died in the region during the war.
In Marseille, the Armistice ceremony started at 11 o’clock on the dot. Presided by regional authorities, the ceremony was held on in the presence of the Foreign Legion, the French Air Force School as well as the police and firefighting forces of Marseille. Below, a photo of the ceremony by the sea.
Happy Armistice Day!