With winter right around the corner, established traditions return once more to keep travellers warm and merry in this festive season. In the Eastern region of France, settled close to the border of Germany is Strasbourg, the capital city of Alsace and also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
When strolling through the streets of the city, both German and French cultural influences may be observed, as Strasbourg has often moved back and forth between the two countries over the past hundreds of years. At times, it may be challenging to identify which country Strasbourg is in, as the road signs are in both German and French. Wine and beer are received with equal enthusiasm. It is not uncommon to find German dishes that are spelled in French within restaurants and pubs. Tourists can observe the German and French architecture designs, as the German Renaissance bestowed salient buildings, as did the French Baroque and Classicism with palace structures.
Since 1570, Strasbourg has been holding Christkindelsmärik every year, the largest and most celebrated of all Christmas markets throughout Europe. The market is held around the Strasbourg Cathedral place from 28th November, ending December 31st. As many as two million visitors come every year to experience the unique flavours and inviting atmosphere, a considerable amount of holidaymakers as the city consists of 250,000 inhabitants. The Christmas market reaches from the city centre all the way to the idyllic neighbourhood of “La Petitie France.”
A centuries-old German custom, the market sells traditional arts and crafts items, including Christmas trees, Yuletide decorations, and nativity figures. The entire area is lit up during night with much radiant finery, decorated buildings and the smells of cinnamon and spices filling the air. Whilst shopping, there are Alsatian food markets taking place on Place des Meuniers where warm, spiced mulled wine (vin chaud) and Christmas cookies (Brädeles) are sold, as well as other seasonal treats.
At Place Kléber is the town’s giant Christmas tree (over 100 ft tall), known as the “king of the forests”, which is where the Village of Sharing (“Village du Partage”) is located. History does not go unappreciated as visitors have the option of honouring the Strasbourg locals, who once left gifts for the impoverished below the market tree by giving to charity in the Village of Sharing.
The courtyard of the Strasbourg Cathedral hosts the city’s vastly favoured Christmas market and is home to the world’s first recorded Christmas Tree; during Advent, an historic custom documented in a manuscript dated 1605 narrated the fir trees ornamented with festive decorations in the town halls of Strasbourg. The German gothic architecture, detailed carvings and nativity set aims to captivate visitors. Every day at 12:30 p.m., tourists can see the 1800s astrological clock which is about 60 feet high.
For a month there are over 500 cultural exhibitions, shows and concerts organised for children and adults which take place in respective areas of the city. Travelling on foot is easy to do as the old city is quite compact; next to the Notre Dame of Strasbourg Cathedral, around the Palais Rohan is a collection of museums, the most well-known being the Strasbourg art gallery (Musée des Beaux Arts); across the street is where the Strasbourg historical museum may be found. The Palais Rohan, a fine eighteenth-century palace, also houses the Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Strasbourg Archeological Museum. Cruises and boat trips on the River Ill are available to tour where the cruise leaves from Palais Rohan and follows the Venice-like path through the city.
Like many European cities, Strasbourg has a renowned historical heritage which over centuries allowed it to be shaped into the city it is today. Its spirited dynamic makes it a capital consisting of rich culture; what with its many theatres, museums, opera houses, concert halls, festivals and seasonal events. While Christkindelsmärik is part of Strasbourg’s history, presently the market also provides entertainment and opportunities to acquire that authentic Christmas experience many wish for this year.
What other cities are renowned for their unique Christmas traditions?