Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Strasbourg - The Christmas Capital of France

Welcome to Strasbourg - the "Christmas Capital of France" in the Alsace region, in the Haut Rhin territory. Alsace is a historical region located in the eastern border of France, and on the west bank of the Upper Rhine to Germany and Switzerland. 

A quick observation one gets about Strasbourg is that there is so much in common or influences between France and Germany, in this border-town region. Her history goes back to the time when two brothers made an agreement, as described in the "Oaths of Strasbourg," which gave birth to the two countries of France and Germany. There was a mutual pact of allegiance - an oath of solidarity - between Louis the German who was the ruler of East Francia, and his half-brother Charles the Bald - ruler of West Francia, that was made in February 842, in opposition to their eldest brother, Lothair, who was the nominal ruler of the Carolingian Empire Frankish Kingdoms and the Holy Roman Empire.

Subsequently, Strasbourg and other parts of the Alsace region have been made part of France and Germany, back and forth, through the centuries in the little, local wars;.Strasbourg was annexed back to Germany after the Franco-Prussian War in 1817; and after World War I ended, it was given back to France after the allied forces won and Germany surrendered in 1944.

Going to the Christmas market in Strasbourg, or any other in the Alsace region, takes planning. As early as September, I had purchased the roundtrip train tickets from SNCF and booked lodging with airBnB. This way, I was able to get substantial savings as the train tickets were 70 euros, roundtrip, first class with a senior discount, weekend card. With airBnB, the offerings get lean the closer you get to the month of December. 
The Strasbourg Christmas Market 2016
November 25 to December 31, 2016

The first Christmas market was held in 1570 in Strasbourg. It was called Christkindelsmärik - Market of the Infant Jesus. The tradition of celebrating an Alsatian Christmas continues up to now as it celebrates its 446th year in 2016.
The Office of Tourism - the first stop to get information and maps about Strasbourg and the Christmas market locations. With more that 300 hundred stalls to visit in the historic, city center, this is one of the biggest Christmas markets in Europe where you can find regional food products and typical Alsatian Christmas decorations and crafts in a beautiful holiday atmosphere.

Place Broglie
The historic "Christkindelmärik" - Market of the Infant Christ, first, started here in 1570. Here you can watch craftsmen at work as they make their crafts, showcased every week at the association of craftmen's special stand.

Place de la Cathédrale 
Aside from the market, the Grand Nativity is set up inside the cathedral.

Place du Marché-aux-poissons and on the terrasse of the Palais Rohan 
Taste the delicious food and wine made by local bakers, winegrowers of the Couronne d'Or, Alsace foie gras producers, the Tribu des Gourmets d'Alsace and local beer brewers, and  Bredele Christmas biscuits.

Place Kléber
With more than 100 charities, humanitarian organisations and service clubs, you are invited to help those in need, at the Sharing Village, Place Kléber.
Place Gutenberg
A new addition to the Strasbourg Christmas Market is the Portuguese village, offering a wide range of delicious rural produce, such as charcuterie, wine, craft beers, bolo rei, pasteis de nata, traditional cakes made for the Idanha-a-NovaFestival.  Aside from food and spirits, you can find typical Portuguese crafts  - embroidery from Castelo Branco, traditional drums and guitars, filigree jewellery and ceramics.
Here is a bit of history as to how this became the Market of the Infant Jesus.
At the Strasbourg Christmas Market
The Great Christmas Tree

Every year, there is a giant, decorated Christmas tree that is placed at the city center in Place Kléber. This year, the tree rises to a height of about 30 meters. 

A plea for help to lend a hand to Père Noël (Father Christmas) to take care of families in need this winter.

These people are among the 2 million visitors expected to come this year.

Lit-up buildings around Place Kléber.

Alsatian specialties at the market

FOOD: Have a gastronomic trip as you walk along the market with the food offerings by the different food stalls. Choucroute - their version of the sauerkraut (sour cabbage), is served with an order of Strasbourg sausage and other pork products. Add to that some roasted potatoes or steamed dumplings and you get a whole meal.

Foie gras (pate of duck or goose liver) made here started in the 17th century. Have a taste of it with some baguette and fig confiture (jam) - oh, so good!

The Alsace region is also known for their fruit juices, mineral water and wine. A recipe of coq au Riesling is their version of coq au vin - a French dish of chicken braised with garlic, typically with red wine, some lardon and mushrooms.

WINE: Alsatian wines have a Germanic influence. The region produces, mostly white wine, notable of which are the dry rieslings, like the Gewürztraminer - a sweet, white wine with the aroma of lychees, while the dry version may also have some additional floral and fruit aromatic scents and flavors. 
BEER: In France, Alsace is counted as the major beer-producing region where the breweriesin (breweries) are located near Strasbourg. Among the branded beers produced here are Fischer, Karlsbräu, Kronenbourg, and Heineken InternationalSchnapps, too, but with the decline in the consumption of strong-alcoholic beverages, production is decreasing.
Baked Specialties

Kugelhopf is a coffee bread baked in a fluted, circular mold, dusted with powdered sugar. It is usually served with a cup of coffee in the morning, with  tea in the afternoon, for in-between-meals snacking,  with wine or beer in the evening. It is also used as the bread in sandwich preparations.

Bredele biscuits  are bite-size cookies, in different shapes and sizes, decorations and flavors. The predominant ingredients used are almond, honey, and lemon.

A partial view of the Cathedral of Strasbourg 

Christmas market by the Cathedral of Strasbourg

Scenes from the 1907 Nativity are staged at the southern aisle of the cathedral, composed of the events leading up to the celebration of the birth of the Infant Jesus. 
The Annunciation 

The Visitation

 The Nativity

 The Adoration of the Magi

The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple
Strasbourg, dressed in Christmas finery

Alsatian arts and crafts:
Stuffed toys with Alsatian characters

Ceramic  timber-framed houses for designing your own Alsatian Christmas village

 Alsatian art of paper cutting

 The wooden Christmas tree pyramids and winter scenes are from the holiday traditions of Germany. 

Gingerbread houses, gingerbread man and trains made with cookie and candy designs are inspired by the witches' house in Hansel and Gretel, a German fairytale published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812
Timber-Framed Architecture 
This type of architecture dates back to the medieval times. The structures that have survived here in Strasbourg lend a traditional, warm background to the Christmas market.
An intricate border design in the timber-frame architectural style

Festive lighting in the city streets:

Beautifully decorated storefronts, specialty stores:
This is the most beautifully decorated street.

Foie gras, anyone?

A bread store

Dried meats and sausages from the Alsace region

Alsatian Christmas store

Gift ideas for the holiday season, all made with the Alsatian motifs and designs

Pain d'Epices (spice bread) is a gateau (French cake or quick bread) made using rye flour, honey, and spices. In today's formulation, anis seed and cinnamon may be incorporated.

Charcuterie (Delicatessen)
In the decoration above the window display are two legs of ham, as the focal point.

Maison Alsacienne de Biscuiterie (House of Alsatian Biscuits)
These macarons arranged in the form of a Christmas tree  is so tempting and inviting.

Patisserie - a pastry shop
The holiday scene above the storefront includes a patissier 
(pastry chef) resting on his sleigh. 

A store specializing in dietary products and supplements

In the Christmas display above, it looks like Santa is experiencing a warm Christmas day.

Visiting the Strasbourg Christmas Market for a day entails a lot of walking. Put on your best walking shoes, with added shoe pads, to keep your feet happy.

If ever you plan to visit Strasbourg, coming during the Christmas season would be the best time to do it. But, be sure to come prepared for the occasional blustery winds that come with the cold, winter temperatures.

Next on our itinerary is a side trip to the Christmas market in Colmar. That is accessible by car , by bus, or by train.  In our case, we bought  round trip SNCF train tickets from Strasbourg to Collar and back. There is a discount for seniors (25% off) and for students with IDs. 

Today, Strasbourg remains as an important crossroad in Europe. The Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament are all located here.

Related article:
Strasbourg Christmas Market : La Féerie de Noël, A Christmas Ornament Boutique

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