There are more than 100 Christmas markets in Alsace, the oldest and biggest is in Strasbourg with the market at Colmar coming in close behind in terms of popularity and size.
Go to either of these markets at this seasonal time of the year and you enter an alternative world – the world of Christmas. They take Noël, as it’s called in France, seriously here. Towns are decorated, Christmas trees loom large, lights twinkle, festive music is played and the scents of Christmas assail your quivering nostrils – from mulled wine to gingerbread, pain d’epice, sweet pastries and roasted chestnuts….
Colmar Christmas Market
Colmar has several official Christmas markets, but they all sort of merge into one big fairy-tale like experience as the stalls spill into the narrow, winding cobbled streets. The historic buildings are wonderful and lit year-round but there’s something quite enchanting about the town at Christmas and even the locals feel it – everyone looks happy and the air of excitement is unmistakeable. It does get crowded but for many that shared enthusiasm just adds to the magic.
There’s plenty to tempt you to part with your pennies here, unusual presents, local produce, art and artisan gifts, sweets, cakes and of course wine from the region.
It’s cold, and might even be snowing by Christmas, so wrap up warm and take a break in one of the many charming cafés for a hot chocolate or mulled wine
The Little Venice quarter with its gentle river La Lauch crossed with elegant bridges is also lit up and makes for a beautiful place to take a selfie to send to the folks back home!
Did you know? A tradition of the people of Colmar is to attach candles to branches of holly and fir trees to ward off evil for the four weeks before Christmas, making for some spectacular illuminations.
And another thing... Father Christmas as we know him was inspired by the historical figure of Saint Nicolas, the first recorded person to distribute gifts to German and French children. In some traditional tales he has a partner – Père Fouettard (Bogeyman), who, dressed in black, punishes children who have been bad during the past year. With the evolution of Saint Nicolas into what we call Father Christmas today, le Père Fouettard has disappeared. The celebration of Saint Nicolas takes place in Lorraine and Alsace on 6 December. Tradition goes that children place carrots out for his donkey and leave their shoes out for gifts, as he was known for secret gift-giving like placing coins in shoes. If children are well behaved, they also receive oranges as they were once a highly coveted fruit.
Photos by Lori Prosser