Today is le quatre Septembre, a name that may sound slightly familiar if you've ever gotten off line 3 of the Paris métro between Opéra and La Bourse or if you've walked along the Seine in Boulogne-Billancourt.
Months ago, when I was having lunch with a group of French ladies I know, I asked them the significance of the date. They all hemmed and hawed, looked a bit sheepish, and mumbled something about it being an important date in French history, but just what they couldn't recall. So much for the rigorous French system of education. (Although to be fair, I don't think any of them was younger than 50 so it had probably been awhile since they had last taken a history test.)
So FYI all. On the fourth of September 1870, the Third Republic was proclaimed. Emperor Napoleon III had been taken prisoner by the Prussians, signalling an end to his reign but not regrettably an end to the war. General Louis Jules Trochu was named provisional governor of France but since Paris was cut off from the rest of the country due to the Prussian siege, it was actually Léon Gambetta who ran things from Tours. The Third Republic somehow survived the war and continued until the Nazis arrived in 1940.
I don't know if one is supposed to celebrate this day in any particular way. I suppose not, given that those ladies couldn't pinpoint the significance of the date. So light a candle, hum the Marseillaise, kiss a French person, or raise a toast. Vive la France!