For the anglophones amongst all our readers, you might have seen a big hullabaloo about “la rentrée” in the last few weeks around France. ‘La rentrée’. ‘C’est la rentrée!’ ‘Vive la rentrée!’.

La rentrée is, quite simply, the time of year where children go back to school, adults go back to work, and generally everyone’s regular routine goes back to normal.

Going back, moving forward.

Yet in France, la rentrée is so much more than its half-hearted English translation of “back to school”. Those long and languid summer days are put behind us, and the beginning of September signifies a time of opportunity, a time of optimism and excitement about a new beginning for adults and children alike. Mamans et Papas hurry to the papeterie to buy all the little bits and bobs for the beginning of the school year ahead, children get butterflies about going into the next grade, eagerly waiting to see which of their friends will return with a snazzy new haircut or saunter down the corridor with a swish backpack. Parents take back the chance to hang around by the school gates, catch up with friends and arrange a long-awaited apéro. Then, a couple of weeks later, it’s the same for all the university students heading back to la fac and the politicians coming back to office. In short: La rentrée is a big deal here in l’hexagone.

Why exactly is it such a big deal? Perhaps it’s because it signifies the return to the rhythms of regular French life, which, more than so many other countries, is focussed on the seasons and cultural highlights – la rentrée signifies the beginning of autumn, which paves the way towards Christmas, to New Year, to Mardi Gras, to Easter, to the spring, to the bank holidays, to the summer and then back to la rentrée again. The regularity of daily life returns.


But, historically speaking, the very concept of a summer holiday, in fact, dates back to 1231 when Pope Gregory IX decided to close universities for a month during this summer period in order to limit the number of student absences who left university to help their parents during the summer harvests. Still upheld today, this is based on an agricultural tradition that is still important in France. While we may have thought it was simply convenient so that summer holidays could be used to go to the beach, it is somewhat thanks to the large serf population and the date of the agricultural harvests that we even have a summer holiday at all! So, despite so much of its importance being focussed on busy, modern, urban life, la rentrée (and the summer holidays that precede it) come from a long-established tradition of respect for French agriculture! Who knew?