Postcard from... Paris
The Bal des Pompiers is one of the France’s best-loved traditions
Monday 14 July 2014
As France’s military shines its boots in preparation for the annual Champs Elysées parade today, others will be nursing hangovers after less austere 14 July festivities.
Disco-balls, Abba tribute-bands and firemen serving drinks may sound like a hen night to most, but the Bal des Pompiers is one of the country’s best-loved traditions. Last night stations across the country transformed engine rooms into dancefloors for revelers in their thousands.
The tradition was born, the tale has it, in 1937 at a Bastille Day jolly for firemen and their families. Having trailed a marching band of pompiers back to base, a small crowd peeped in to find them making merry. Feeling that their own celebrations were feeble by comparison, they asked if they could join in.
A stage was erected, refreshments were served and the evening was rounded off with a simulated “dash” (firemen sliding down polls to man their engines). The following year other Parisian stations followed. The bal became a nationwide event.
There are 10,000 balls this year in fire stations, village squares and sports stadia. As a fireman at my local station pointed out: “We spend all year saving people. It’s nice to see them dancing with a glass of champagne in hand.”
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