The French Are Religious About Summer Vacation. Are They Religious During It?

Some Christian ministries take a break. Others try to reach an increasingly secular population on holiday.

The Église Évangelique de Houlgate is situated in the charming and quiet town of Houlgate, two hours from Paris on the Normandy coast. With its red brick exterior from the 1950s, the Protestant church sits in an ideal location—visible at the entrance to the town and overlooking the beach—for a perfect escape from the fast-paced life of Paris.

Houlgate has 1,711 year-round inhabitants, but the summer season can bring nearly 15 times the amount of people to the small city. This complicates shopping, traffic, and lines in the boulangerie, but it also boosts church attendance. Tourists flock to the coast and some pay a Sunday morning visit to the city’s only Protestant church.

Why the sudden rush of vacationers? The simple answer is that summers in France are taken very seriously. Not only is it acceptable to travel in France during July and August, but it is encouraged by the culture. Protestant churches all over France, like the one in Houlgate, have to adapt to this cultural tradition by changing up their usual rhythm in order to keep people coming through their doors.

With 25 paid vacation days available to most employees, businesses are closed for weeks or months in the summer season, and administrative workers send automated emails declaring their absence until la rentrée in September. Not surprisingly, church attendance fluctuates wildly: Some churches go so far as to shut their doors during the summer while others have an entirely different congregation during the season.

“We see [a 50 percent] growth during the summer season, thanks to tourists,” said Cyril Poly, a longtime member at Église Évangelique de Houlgate.

But not all seaside areas attract tourists. …

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