More than just "back to school", la Rentrée is a major event in the French calendar that affects the whole of French society, not just school children and students...
You might already be aware that August is a holiday month in France. It is not uncommon for some businesses to close up shop for the entire month, while their employees take a long summer break. Even throughout July things start to slow down: schools close around the 6th, and you'll start to hear people saying how they will get on with such-and-such a task "à la Rentrée".
The tradition of taking a summer holiday holds fast in France and people expect to completely switch off and enjoy time with the family. For some this might mean a two-week break, but the onus is on recharging one's batteries to the max.
But after this period of relaxation and indulgence, people start to gear-up for the beginning of September.
There is a buzz in the air as la Rentrée approaches. It is an exciting time of plans and preparations for new projects and good intentions. This is the time to take up a new hobby or sport. It is when the job will start that you were interviewed for in July. You'll catch up with friends for coffee that you haven't seen for weeks. You might finally get around to clearing out those cupboards, too!
This is not unlike the feeling that the British have around the Christmas period: for the last 10 days of the year we do not tend to start a new job or project and
our workplace might close altogether between Christmas and New Year. Our focus is on drawing a line under the whole year and taking some well-earned time out with the family. Then the New Year
comes around and we start to look at the year ahead and what we might achieve. The French on the otherhand, barely break stride at Christmas. The main celebration happens on Christmas Eve and
everyone is back to work on 26th December. One week later, they celebrate New Year's Eve but expect to be back at work on 2nd January.
This excellent short video explains la Rentrée from the perspective of a German. The video is in French, without subtitles. If you find it a little fast, you can click on the video's settings in the bottom right hand corner to slow it down. In the settings you can also choose to see an automatically produced transcription in French, which does contain some grammatical errors but will certainly help you to follow the spoken French:
Une bonne Rentrée à toutes et à tous !