Christmas in Alsace
Tonight, the longest night of the year, Strasbourg is all lit up like it never heard of an energy crisis. This is the view from our window, down onto the Place Kléber, where the city’s unimaginably tall Christmas tree, le sapin de Noël, reigns supreme. Wafting up to our fourth floor hideaway are the dulcet sounds of…..really competent and vigorous African drumming. It sounds incongruous, but actually it’s a relief after the canned Christmas carols we’ve been hearing all day as we wandered through the Christmas-obsessed town.
The beautiful half-timbered buildings are all decorated, and the storks are out in force, the stork being the regional mascot of the area and their team costume apparently being red stockings.
Beer is everywhere too, Strasbourg being at least partly German, and when you can get storks and beer in the same place, why not go for it?
Not all of the decorations are silly, of course. Some are wickedly gorgeous, like this trompe l’oeil façade.
I’d spend all of my time looking into store windows, which are of a quality and variety that I find really staggering, were it not for the crowds. If everyone in France isn’t in Strasbourg this week, I don’t know where all these people came from. Thousands upon thousands of people mill in the streets, every restaurant is full at lunch time, you can barely move from one place to another, and almost all of the people are French.
It’s a ritual pilgrimage for the French, the Christmas markets of Alsace. All roads lead to the markets, for there are several of them, scattered throughout the center of town, and all of the hotels rooms in town are booked months in advance.
What can you buy there? I’d say that one out of every three or four vendors is selling vin chaud, hot spiced wine , and giant pretzels. It’s been really freezing here, as the steaming wine attests, and so possibly the wine is even more popular than usual. Or possibly it’s the real reason that so many people come to the market in the first place.
You can also get every sort of treat and gift, ranging from Christmas candy
through jumbo gingerbread cookies,
to dolls with classic French faces,
sublimely elegant gifts for the lady of your life,
and recreations of village Christmases past. And that was just in a couple hours of walking around. Believe me when I tell you that Christmas is vast here, and that we have not yet begun to really seize the day.
Except, and this is an important exception, when it comes to Shel’s present. The only thing I bought today was a wonderful Russian camel fur vest for Shel. Nope, I’m not kidding. That too is a part of the Strasbourg Christmas spirit.