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The Festival of the Sea: A French tradition in the month of August

Alice Alech - published on 08/24/22

Coastal resorts in France pay tribute to those lost at sea in August.

The feast of the  Assumption, August 15, is usually a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics. It is an occasion to honor the Assumption of the Blessed Mary into heaven. In France, it is one of the 11 public holidays. As August 15 falls on a Monday this year, Catholics were free to attend Mass. (In the United States, where the Assumption is not a public holiday, the Mass obligation was waived.)

Fête de la Mer, translated as a festival of the sea, also takes place in August; a tribute to sailors and fishermen, it involves Mass and the laying of wreaths in the open ocean, often on August 15.

August is an excellent time to give thanks and celebrate these two events: the traditional summer vacation month for the French and the height of the tourist season. 

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Assumption Day 

King Louis XIII (1610-1643), son of Henri IV and Marie de’ Medic, chose to make August 15 a public holiday in France. Today it is one of the country’s 11 religious and civil celebrations

Struggling to produce a son after 20 years of marriage, Louis and his wife Anne of Austria finally had an answer to their prayers.

When the king learned for certain an heir was to be born, he made a vow on February 10, 1638 – as a sign of gratitude, he promised to consecrate himself, the royal family, and France to the Virgin Mary. He chose  Our Lady of the Assumption as his protector. 

For devout French Catholics, the Assumption is one of the most important religious days, a day to celebrate and attend Mass. In some cities, pilgrims carry a statue of Mary in and around the neighborhood. The Assumption period is one of the busiest days in the town of  Lourdes.  

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Festival of the Sea

The sea and coastline festival Fête de la Mer is also a time for Mass, blessings, and reflections. 

The first festival of the sea occurred in 1932, when Franciscan priests sought to unite the parishioners of the Catholic churches. Their idea of paying homage to those who perished at sea began around 117 years ago. 

The first blessing of the sea was a success. Wives and families of sailors began asking the Virgin Mary to protect their loved ones who spent long periods at sea. 

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Medoc Atlantic and Fête de la Mer

Vast untouched beaches and impressive, diverse coastline make the Atlantic coast an ideal itinerary for tourists and locals. Equally attractive are the lower temperatures and the wide beaches of the Atlantic Coast.

The Medoc Atlantic region, North of Bordeaux, is a hot spot for surfers and the go-to destination for anyone attracted to wild, powerful waves.  

Soulac Sur Mer in the peninsula of Medoc is a privileged location,  86 kilometers from Bordeaux; it is one of the most popular beach resorts in the region, with four main beaches staffed by voluntary lifeguards. The town is also home to the World Heritage 12th-century Basilica of Notre-Dame de la Fin des Terres (Lady of the End of the Lands). The basilica was buried by sand around 1747 and revived a few years later. 

After an absence of two years due to the pandemic, tourists, holidaymakers, and locals celebrated the blessings of the sea this year by attending Mass at the Basilica. The service was celebrated on August 8 by Monsignor James, Archbishop of Bordeaux. 

After Mass, a procession headed towards the beach for a blessing and laying of wreaths in the ocean. It was a fine day with a calm sea, and wreaths were placed in the ocean with lifeguards of Soulac, volunteers from TheSociété Nationale de Sauvetage en Mer (SNSM), playing an active part in laying the wreath. 

And to complete the celebrations, all eyes turned towards the sky for the traditional fireworks on the main beach.

Fête de la Mer is firmly rooted in tradition, a celebration that raises public awareness of maritime and coastal heritage. Communication with the ocean is the main attraction. The feast of the Assumption celebrates the assumption, body and soul, of  Mary, the mother of Christ. It marks Mary’s entry into paradise.

Tags:
FranceSpiritual LifeTraditionsVirgin Mary
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