Le vrai voyager n’a pas de plan etabli et n’a pas l’intention d’arriver – Lao Tzu
The real traveller has no fixed plan and is not intent on arriving – Lao Tzu
Winter means shorter days, long dark nights, hot soups, snuggly mufflers and warm winter coats. It also means the month of December that has Christmas. And if you happen to be in Europe, it also means the happy days of Marche de Noel aka Christmas Markets!
From the last week of November, the city of Strasbourg starts defying the dropping mercury. Its streets, houses, monuments & buildings, churches & cathedrals, every nook & corner drape themselves in the shimmer of the lights ready to shower approximately 2 million visitors with the magical pixie dust of Noel (Christmas). ‘Noel‘ the French word for Christmas comes from ‘New Sun‘ in Gallic and ‘birth‘ in Latin.
Et Voila! Welcome to Europe’s Capital of Christmas, the ‘radiant’ Strasbourg when the city bathes in the glimmer of lights.
Marche de Noel
French for Christmas market, Marche de Noel at Strasbourg is the grandest, the finest, and one of the oldest (since 1570) across Europe. It is also called Christkindelsmärik in the local Alsatian dialect and means market of the Christ child. Held annually from November 29th till December 31st, it has about 300+ stalls selling Christmas decorations, artisanal gifts, pain aux epices (gingerbread), local handicraft items, handmade ceramic ware, and seasonal Alsatian delicacies. While the number of stalls offering an extensive spread of goods leaves you surprised, the quality they offer will please your heart!
Marche de Noel is spread across Grand Ile, at the base of the Cathedral. The oldest of the markets is held at Place Broglie. It is here and at Place de la Grande Boucherie that one finds very inviting and elegantly decorated artisanal stalls. Stalls at Marché-aux-Poissons on the terrace of Palais Rohan are a good mix of native wine & beer manufacturers and of local Franco-German cuisine specialities. While the blends of the spirit and their colourful bottles vie for attention, the aromas of the local dishes floating in the air make you hungry.
Christmas is incomplete without a well-decorated, brightly illuminated Christmas tree. A 30ft tall Christmas tree, brought from nearby Vosges mountain is installed at Place Kleber. It is decorated aesthetically with thousands of lights and trinkets. This big square is named after French general Jean-Baptiste Kléber. The Statue of Kleber at the centre of the square has a vault underneath carrying his remains. Every evening around 5 pm when the Sun bids goodbye to the city, the tree is gradually illuminated enthralling the visitors with its charm smudging the line between real and imaginary under the starry skies while singing the happy tune of ‘merry Christmas’
It is here that 50 charitable associations form a ‘Village du partage’ (sharing village) continuing the old tradition in which the locals would leave the gifts for the poor at the feet of the Christmas tree.
Built around 1100AD, Place Guttenberg is named after printer Guttenberg, the father of the moving printing press. It was formerly known as the Place du Marche aux Herbes (Herbs Market Square). At the centre of the square is his statue holding a parchment in his hand with “Let there be light” engraved on it. It is said that these were the first words typed with his machine!
During Christmas, apart from a handful of stalls, the square has a colourful and illuminated carousel installed. Bathed in colourful lights the buildings of Strasbourg’s former town hall at Place Gutenberg look royal.
With the spirit of the Noel in the heart, a twinkle of the magical Christmas tree in the eyes, it’s time to call it a day. Let the ravishing Strasbourg linger in your mind till we meet tomorrow.
PS: Both Gutenberg and General Kleber were the sons of Strasbourg
Click here for posts so far in the “Exploring l’Hexagone” series