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The Christmas Markets of Strasbourg and other wondrous French festivities

Imagine experiencing the best Christmas market where even Père Noël shops himself before crawling down chimneys all over the world to leave presents! Something I learned recently is that French children leave their shoes around the fire to be filled with toys and treats. I suppose this isn’t too different from our tradition of using a stocking to fill with toys; after all, they are both things you put on your feet. Legend has it, back before the washer/dryer machine was invented people would hang their stockings or leave their shoes by the fireplace to dry. Before toys, Santa was said to throw gold coins down the fireplace for nice children, and they would land in the stockings or shoes, creating the custom of leaving them out for gifts that we practice today.

This week we are going outside into French society, the streets bustling with Christmas cheer! It's high time we mingle merrily with others seeking Festive French cheer, and the best place to do this is at one of France’s beautiful and famous Christmas Markets. Markets like these can be found all throughout France at the festive time of year, but the most well known is The Strasbourg Christmas markets, also known as the "Christkindelsmärik" in the native Alsatian language.

The Strasbourg Christmas markets are the oldest in France, dating back to the 16th century. While the market has things you will find at any Christmas market across France, it boasts a unique feel of German/French influence. Strasbourg, now under the rule of France was under German rule until after World War 1, so a lot of the local architecture, customs, and foods are a blend of the two cultures, which can be summed up under the term 'Alsatian.'

The markets are set in the Old Town part of the city, its dark wood market stalls sprinkled with snow and the whole place decorated with twinkling lights and Christmas trinkets. It is clear the enduring spirit of the market continues untouched by time – the whole place is the very picture of picturesque, old-timey beauty and cosiness. Imagine strolling through the markets, enjoying the sights and sounds of the holiday season, rugged up in scarves and jumpers. Carolers and live Christmas music echo cheerfully in the night, and the smells of traditional Alsatian Christmas treats entice you. Of course there are the normal offerings, including Vin Chaud, cheese and so on, but Strasbourg has a whole host of traditional foods that won’t be found outside of the region. Flammekueche, or tart tarte flambée is something of an Alsatian pizza, consisting of a thinly rolled dough base, and a thin layer of crème fraiche, onions and bacon. There is also Choucroute, a dish of sausage, sauerkraut and potato, quiche Lorraine, a classic dish native to the nearby town of Lorraine, Bredele the classic Alsatian Christmas cookie, and much more.

Pictured above: Tarte flambée

To add further to the delightful foods and atmosphere are the market stalls offering artisanal products made by local craftsmen and women, including Christmas decorations, toys, and other handmade gifts. A souvenir that far exceeds an I HEART PARIS T-shirt!

Some extra thrills and activities include a visit with classic jolly Saint Nick who of course takes a seat each year at the market, ice-skating, and taking a horse-drawn carriage ride. I know I keep saying to imagine – but really imagine the wonder of experiencing the Christmas lights, music, and food while being transported by a horse! It sounds like something out of a dream.

While Strasbourg is undoubtedly known for being the BEST Christmas Market - the best overall Christmas decorations are seen in Colmar, another city in the Alsace region with a notable Christmas Market. The Germanic architecture coupled with the charming decorations makes the town seem to leap from the pages of a fairytale.

Lyon, yet another French city, further south, is known for its Fete des lumieres, a beautiful magical light show installed throughout the city that dates back to the 8th of December 1852 when residents celebrated the erection of a statue of the virgin Mary by placing coloured candles in their window frame. Today, ordinary fixtures of the city such as signs and streetlights are given new life through movement and light unlike that of their regular function. Spaces are transformed with light pieces - in 2019 floating sea creatures and seaweed lit from within created an underwater atmosphere at the Fete. Most memorable perhaps are the large scale moving light projections on the tall renaissance buildings of the city that transform the landscape into that of a beautiful, surreal dream. The festival runs for 4 days every year from the 8th to the 11th of December.

Are you thinking longingly now of the warming festival and market traditions and foods of France? Perhaps you are wishing you were strolling the markets, hot beverage in hand, inspecting hand crafted ornaments and Alsatian delicacies, or enjoying the light shows of Lyon as they dance and scatter. If this is you, then you are in luck. France Travel Solutions are happy to take expressions of interest for those wanting a White Christmas in France next year. Whatever you seek, FTS can help you with crafting the perfect itinerary, down to the details – where to stay, what to eat, where to visit. If you want a voyage dedicated to visiting the most iconic Christmas experiences, markets, and festivals, or simply wish to experience France in its cold winter season, then please let us know. It is our wish to create the experiences that will keep you excited and looking forward to your French adventures in 2024 and beyond.

Update: As of January 2024 we are pleased to announce our new French Christmas Winter Delights tour, packed full of Festive French experiences like those included in this blog post and many more! Find out more by clicking here. On se voit là-bas!


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