School children look at school books in a bookstore in Paris, September, 1946
Copyright  AFP

Vive la rentrée: Check out these awesome vintage photos of France's end-of-summer tradition

By Scott Brownlee

France has a unique tradition to mark the start of a new school year.

If you have ever visited Paris in August you may have noticed something surprising: where are all the locals?

Well, they're off enjoying the hot French summer, away from the stickiness of the city. But come the end of August, they all come flooding back. Ready to return to work, school, and normal life.

The end of the summer holidays in France is marked by a tradition known as 'la rentrée.' Although similar to the English's 'back to school', the French equivalent means a lot more than a return to school in September.

Archival photo of 'la rentrée des classes' in 1951AFP

Marking a return to the office for workers, and the return of French parliament following a summer break, 'la rentrée' is an important element to the annual rhythm of French life.

Schoolchildren look at school books in Gibert Joseph bookstore in Paris, September, 1946.AFP

More than the end of summer holidays, this period is a chance for the French to get back into the groove of everyday life, and a chance to catch up with loved ones and coworkers.

Visiting Paris at this time of year, you are sure to hear local bakers and butchers greeting their customers enthusiastically with a friendly: "Vive la rentrée!", as you pass neighbours chatting happily.

A mother drags her reluctant child to school for the first day back to school in Paris on September 13, 1954.AFP
-/AFP or licensors
Students line up in the schoolyard of an elementary school in Paris on the first day of the new school year, October 1, 1947-/AFP or licensors

This uniquely French tradition can be traced back to Pope Gregory IX who introduced the concept of a summer holiday in 1231. He decided to close universities for a month to limit absences caused by students who went to help their parents during the summer harvest.

French schoolboys chat in the street in front of their elementary school on the first day of the new school year in Paris, October 1, 1944.AFP
French schoolgirls arrive at their elementary school for the first day of the new school year, Paris, October 1, 1945.AFP
A schoolboy in front of the blackboard marked "it is necessary to work, it is the only thing that amuses" in a 1949 classroom in Paris on the first day of the new school year.AFP

The end of the summer holidays doesn't have to be a commiseration. So follow the French and take the chance to celebrate a fresh start to the year.

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