Why do we mark May 8th?
First a brief history. May 8th marks the formal acceptance by the Allies of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces in 1945.
Popularly known as VE Day (Victory in Europe Day), it marks the date when World War II ended in Europe.
Some fighting continued around the world, however. The United States dropped its atomic bombs on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki months later, in August, and all hostilities officially ceased on September 2nd 1945.
But in Europe, May 8th brought the end of the Nazi threat and a promise of brighter times ahead.
How is May 8th commemorated in France?
France is one of the few European countries that have made May 8th a public holiday and most people get the day off work when it falls on a weekday (this year it will be on a Saturday, so unfortunately no extra day off).
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In normal times, without Covid-19, May 8th is majestically marked with a large ceremony in Paris and smaller celebrations in towns and cities across the country.
Last year’s event, although it marked the 75-year-anniversary, was a small-scale one compared to other years, as France was still under its first nationwide, strict lockdown.
President Emmanuel Macron did go ahead with the wreath-laying ceremony at the Champs-Elysées, keeping with the tradition for French heads of state.
What’s on this year?
The 2021 commemorations will also be less grand than other years as several Covid-19 restrictions remain in place in France.
As last year, Macron will lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe, which stands at the top of the Champs Elysées, in the presence of “a restricted number of public officials and military,” the French Defence Ministry said a press statement.
The ceremony will be closed to the public, though it will be possible to watch it live on television.
Regional authorities – the préfets – have permission to organise ceremonies in their areas, though “in a restricted format and while strictly respecting social distancing measures,” the statement read. These ceremonies will also be closed to the public.
Mayors can also lay wreath at war memorials in their communes, in ceremonies that, again, have to be in line with health rules and be closed to the public.