Thursday, December 19, 2013

Celebrating at the Capital of Christmas

Jeudi, 19 décembre.

As you could probably tell from the length of my last post, it would have been absolutely impossible to fit all of my Strasbourg adventures in one post. We just saw and did (and ate) too much! So here begins part two of the Strasbourg adventure -- this time, all about the Marchés de Noël.

As the city holds the title of "capital of Christmas," it's not surprising that they have Christmas markets down to a science. There are over 300 chalets -- little booths, selling everything from pretzels to mulled wine to tree ornaments -- spread out over eleven villages throughout the city. It's all super well-organized: there are giant maps everywhere! (Perfect for a photo op.)

The biggest of these markets is the Christkindelsmärik (an Alsacian term that translates as "Baby Jesus Market"). The history of the market goes back to 1570, when a Lutheran priest, who in an effort to eliminate the very Catholic tradition of venerating saints, was trying to get rid of the city's traditional Marché Saint-Nicolas. Instead of fully cancelling the market, city council decided instead to change its name! And so the "Baby Jesus Market" was born.

Although the Christkindelsmärik is the oldest and most famous, another of the city's Christmas markets -- at Place Kleber -- had another distinction: it's the home of the city's 30-meter Christmas tree! I've never been a fan of over-decorated Christmas trees (like the National Christmas tree in DC, which hardly looks like a tree once they've finished lighting it up), so I loved that this one retained its "tree-ness."


I loved the lights and the little illuminated village at the bottom! Although both the tree and village were truly glorious at night, they're also quite lovely during the day.

As for the Christmas markets themselves, they definitely lived up to my expectations! They were a little different than in Heidelberg: the stands were more unique and seemed to have more artisanal goods ... and there was no bratwurst!


Despite the lack of bratwurst, the food situation in Strasbourg was pretty amazing. Some stands sold pretzels and beignets alongside vin chaud. Others stuck to cookies -- like these amazingly detailed hand-painted gingerbread cookies and the more typically Alsatian bredele.


Even the window displays looked good enough to eat!

On our last evening in Strasbourg, Molly and I made sure to try flammekueche. The dish, called tarte flambée in French, is a sort of flatbread pizza that's covered in crème fraîche, onions, and lardons (pieces of pork)The dish is a famous regional speciality of Alsace and although it sounded and looked a little iffy, it was absolutely delicious!

We even found -- wait for it -- spaetzle. That's right ... only my absolutely FAVORITE childhood meal, served for a couple euros in the world's most famous Christmas market. (Life sure is good sometimes.) Cooked up in a giant pan and served with cream and lardons, it was absolutely the perfect dinner!

Lest you think it's all about the food and hot wine, let me assure you that Strasbourg did a pretty good job of keeping the Christ in Christmas. All of the city's churches get really into the holiday season, hosting concerts and special services for tourists. Although none coincided with our visit, I did really enjoy the opportunity to stop in and visit some of the churches' beautiful crèches.

My first was at Église Saint-Pierre le Vieux, an old church in the center of the city that is actually divided into two churches -- one Catholic and one Protestant! Although it seems weird, this isn't particularly surprising in Strasbourg, because the city changed hands so many times between Catholic France and Lutheran Germany. In addition to a beautiful Nativity scene, the church had a really impressive Advent wreath!

Unsurprisingly, we found the most impressive crèche at the Strasbourg Cathedral. Unsatisfied with portraying only the birth of Jesus, whoever built this nativity scene decided instead to depict the entire story of the birth of Jesus. Beginning with the Annunciation, the display followed the Gospel story through the Visitation, the Nativity, the Adoration of the Three Kings, and the Presentation at the Temple.

When we ran out of things to eat and Christmas markets to visit, Molly and I contented ourselves with taking silly pictures around the city! Here's me with the giant present-shaped building outside of the cathedral. (No, I don't really get it either.)


Although Strasbourg during the day was lovely, nothing can compare with the beauty of the city at night. Everything -- and I mean everything -- was lit up for Christmas: trees, stores, homes, streets, and even tram stops! I took as many photos as I could.

I'd say Strasbourg earned that title, wouldn't you?


  1. Magical!! I'm so happy you got to go!
    Love, Mommy

  2. Que de merveilles a garder dans ton coeur! Merci pour ce partage...

  3. and nearly 3 years later I comment as to how much I loved these posts.