When I was little, we used to be taken out of school for our summer holiday to France - such a decadent notion nowadays. We were often there for Bastille Day which was always very exciting - lots of decorations and fireworks. Interesting article here about the history of the national day. I must confess that as giddy children we didn't really pay attention to the 'why' - we just 'oooed' at the fireworks.
My favourite fête is the Poissonade - a brilliant festival in Trevignon, Brittany celebrating the sea. The community get together to eat moules, merguez and chips on long trestle tables, washed down with very earthy red wine. There's much dancing and singing, and in the evening the street lights are cut and the lifeboat station becomes the focal point of the firework display. There's something quite magical about walking home along the beach in the dark with the smell of fireworks lingering in the air.
Ahhh - I *heart* France. Can't wait to go back.