There are many public holidays in May in France. And of course, May 1st is the most famous of them all, and so is May 8th. But you may not know exactly why this day is historic in France and why it is a public holiday.
May 8th refers to May 8, 1945 marking the end of WWII in Europe. That day, Allies win the war and the Nazi Germany capitulates. On May 8, 1945 at 3 p.m. bells start to ring through the entire country. “The war has been won. This is victory” the General de Gaulle says on the radio.
Representatives of the German High Command sign a new capitulation act on May 8, 1945 at 11:01 p.m. in Berlin with the representatives of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the United-States, the United-Kingdom, and France.
May 8th is declared as a public holiday on March 20, 1953. But on April 11, 1959, the famous General de Gaulle decides to get rid of the public holiday in the context of the French-German reconciliation. It is in 1981 and the presidency of François Mitterrand that May the 8th is a public holiday once again as said in the law of September 23, 1981.
Just like for November 11, commemorations and homages to the victims of the war are highly celebrated in France on May 8th. The French President is usually driven up the Avenue des Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe, escorted by the Garde Républicaine. Surrounded by military chiefs and representatives of veterans, resistant fighters, and deported from WWII, the head of State also drops off a spray of flowers on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.