TODAY is VE Day which has been a French bank holiday since 1953 – apart from the fact it was abolished from 1959 to 1981.
Le 8 Mai 1945 is the day that Germany surrendered at the end of the Second World War, and it was a bank holiday from 1953 to 1959, when De Gaulle changed it to be a commemoration, but not a bank holiday.
Then, in 1975, the commemoration day was abolished too, by president Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, in favour of marking instead the next day, May 9.
That was to commemorate May 9, 1950 when French statesman Robert Schuman made a foundational speech for the European Union and the French foreign affairs minister called for friendship with Germany.
The German president thanked Giscard d’Estaing, saying that it gave him “deep satisfaction” and it would “give a new impetus to accomplish the work of European unification”.
As for Giscard, he justified abolishing May 8 by saying hardly anyone had turned up to the commemorations in Paris that year.
However many of the French remained unconvinced and in 1980 the question of bringing May 8 back was raised again in the French cabinet when Guy Genermont, president of an association for decorated servicepeople, told them: “The decorated veterans saw around 400,000 of their comrades killed and awarded medals posthumously, and they don’t think that dedicating one day a year to them is over the top.”
The day was brought back as a bank holiday from the next year after the election of François Mitterrand.
Because of its significance Le 8 mai 1945 is a common ‘odonym’ in France (the technical word for a name of a street or square).
As for May 9, it has officially been Europe Day since 1985.
With a full complement of four bank holidays (none falling at weekends) this month, and five weekends, there are only 17 working days, which has not happened since 1970 – a boost for the travel, leisure and gardening industries.