Tuesday, 13 December 2016

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

Kathe Wohlfahrt

This is a shop that specializes in Christmas decorations found in the different Christmas markets in the Alsatian region. La Féerie de Noël has the most variety of some traditional Christmas decorations, with some limited editions from "Käthe Wohlfahrt's Childhood Dream", nutcrackers, pyramid trees and crèches, decorated pine cones, glass balls, brass ornaments, and an assortment of table settings and candle holders, to create the setting for an Alsatian Christmas- holiday celebration.

Christmas  decorating started as decorations used for other family celebrations and traditions, before the Christmas tree came to be. The origin of the Alsatian Christmas decorations and the others from Europe come from the holiday traditions of Germany. It was in Germany that the celebration of Christmas started as we do today.

Martin Luther, who gave the reformation a kickstart, was instrumental in changing the Christmas season celebration from being about St. Nicholas Day to making it a celebration about the Christ Child, and that led to the holiday celebration of Christmas and the renaming of the holiday markets to Christkindl markets

Though, the creation of ornaments for use with the celebration of St. Nicholas Day  (celebrated on December 6th in the Christian calendar), after the change in the focus of the celebration to the Infant Jesus, the ornaments became part of the Christmas tradition


St. Nicholas - Père Noël - Santa Claus - Sinterklaas

Saint Nicholas was a 4th-century Christian saint, who was a Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor. He was called "Nikolaos the Wonderworker." His reputation among the people in his village was that of a secret-gift giver. Thus, he became the model for Père Noël (Father Christmas), Sinterklaas, and  Santa Claus.

A-Frame Pyramids and other Decorations 
made by German Artisans

As Martin Luther wanted to include two biblical themes - the stories of paradise and the  nativity of our Lord into one representation, the Christmas tree came about. Because trees were not always readily available, the people started making an A-frame pyramid, with an evergreen bough tied to it. In it were little figurines - characters depicting Adam and Eve in paradise and their fall from God's grace due to sin. Later on, other characters found their places in the pyramid about the birth of the Christ child -  the redeemer of the world. On the boughs hang small candies and wafers, folded or cut papers following the theme of the two stories from the Bible. From this came the German pyramid or the candle carousel, and the Christmas tree. 

 La Creche -Nativity - Christkindl 

Christmas Winter Scenes

Tree Ornaments

Having a Christmas tree is now the traditional decoration as the holiday season comes around, filled with ornaments that people find nice and pretty, and not necessarily related to the two Biblical themes. 

In the olden days, it was the farmers - in their spare time beginning in spring - who were making the hand-hewn ornaments, works of art that were made from cut paper, shaved wood, and twisted wire. Dried fruits ands nuts were also used to adorn the trees. 

In 1800, in Lauscha, Germany, a company started to produce ornaments on a commercial scale. Using other materials, such as marble, flasks and dishware, more artistic creations in ornamentation were added. In time,  the company started using blown-glass that was molded while still hot, then hand painted. Icicles, stars, bells, animals, angels were added to the usual fruit and nut designs they had started with. Ornament figurines of saints and political figures followed.  

It was only in the mid-nineteenth century that other countries followed suit in decorating Christmas trees during the holidays. England set the pace when in 1846, the royal family - with Queen Victoria and Prince Philip - had a family picture taken with a decorated Christmas tree in the background. After the royal family pictures published, soon, the Christmas tree became the rage in the rest of Europe, and Woolworth Five and Dime stores brought the concept to the United States of having a Christmas tree for the big, holiday celebration for the German immigrants - who, of course, were happy as this gave them back a tradition they had in the old country. And the rest is history!

While Christmas has become commercialized, there are still handmade ornaments by German artisans that are being imported into the United States. These are truly works of art.

Perhaps, you, too can have an Alsatian-Christmas theme as you decorate your homes this season. It brings warmth and beauty as you celebrate, even more so when you include some Alsatian holiday food specialties to times spent with the family and friends this Christmas.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Christmas Market in Colmar: Hansi - an Artist from Colmar

Among the discoveries we made while walking the streets of Colmar, were a store next to the  Museum of Hansi and the museum itself. Hansi, a pseudonym, was Jean-Jacques Waltz, a famous artist. 


The storefront display

It was this print of the little girl that caught my attention, on the show window.

Some unique gifts and souvenirs

Jean-Jacques Waltz was born on February 23, 1873. Colmar at that time was part of German Alsace. While attending the Reichsland school, he showed promise as an artist. He went on to attend the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Lyon, leading on to a career as an industrial draftsmen. He worked as a draftsman in textile industries in Cernay, Mulhouse waterforteand Logelbach, at the same time he was  to improving his painting technic.  He dabbled in watercolor.

Among his first designs were found in postcards that were released in Austria and Germany. In 1896, Colmar became part of his scene. He met some Alsatian artists from Strasbourg - Bartholdi, Spindler, Schnug, Loux, Hornecker, to name a few, and soon he began to collaboratee with them in doing events. As a result of the, he started to be known in Colmar.

In 1907, he started to publish his works under a pseudonym, Hansi. His work, entitled Vogesenbilder (Images of Vosges) was quite successful. This was a series of boards - of maps and landscapes, that were published by Max Wettig. Up to 1914, his literary works were being published. one of them was Professor Knatsche - an anti-Germanic satire. Because of his anti-Germany messages in his works, he received several convictions before the German courts.
In La Cigogne - a magazine, he contributed his postcard designs of Alsatian children in in their local landscape. This was seen as a symbol of the Alsatian resistance towards Germany as he used them as a vehicle for the graphic expression of his sentiments. 

In 1914, Hansi enlist in active military service with the French army. After the war, he published some illustrated books, though they did not do as well as his first works. Some of the illustrations have been reproduced in postcards.

A glimpse of the life and times of Colmar during Hansi's time

Though, the museum was already closed by the time we got there, we saw some of his designs in this area - in a passageway. it would have been nice to see his original artworks. 
Here are some of them, in posters:
Posters he produced for the Alsace and Lorraine railways

A depiction of the little girls in their Alsatian clothes

It was so nice to see a lady dressed in traditional fashion at the Christmas market. 

Jean Jacques Waltz took over his father's position as Conservator of the Museum of Unterlinden and worked on "heraldic art" - the profession, study, or art of devising, granting, and blazoning arms, tracing genealogies, and determining and ruling on questions of rank or protocol, as exercised by an officer of arms.

Once again, he put on his hat as a draftsman when he accepted a commission from the Potashes of Alsace , who had ordered advertising cards, which were, then, published by Braun in Mulhouse Dornach. He was in advertising for a decade - from 1923 - 1933.

When the WWII broke out, Hansi, who was now identified for his anti-German stance, took refuge in Agen, then went into exile in Switzerland. In 1946, he returned to his native Colmar. Not long after his long journey, he got ill, became very weak and demoralized. he passed away on June 10, 1951, at the age of 78.

From the Handicrafts Christmas Market  - At the Koïfhus
 Alsatian fashion

 Hansi's designs used for winter ornamentation

As an artist, Hansi left Colmar with much contribution in arts and culture. He was prolific in creating designs and motifs which have been used and are still being used in stained-glass windows, serve ware, dolls, posters, commercial labels, menus, books, fashion, and nearly 400 postcards. He was an engraver and painter in water color. At the same time, he was a writer, an activist, a historian who memorialized his era through his many works

What an interesting discovery Hansi has been.

A Day at the 2016 Christmas Market in Colmar, France

My daughters and I just love going to Christmas markets. Its the warm and Christmas fairytale atmosphere that we enjoy. So, off we went to another Christmas market, after spending a day at the "Christmas Capital of France" - Strasbourg. By train, we headed to Colmar: The Land of Christmas Stars

Colmar is the 3rd largest city in Alsace. It is 40 miles southwest of Strasbourg. Its history on how she acquired Germanic and French influences is very similar to that of Strasbourg. The town is on the Alsatian wine route and is the "capital of Alsatian wine."

In Colmar, it is said that one can experience the magic of Christmas. The historic part of town is illuminated and decorated, making the ambiance in the old town so festive. Among the discoveries here are the architectural treasures of churches , museums, and structures dating back to the medieval ages. And not to be missed are the regional foods and the artisanal crafts.

From walking the picture-perfect streets of Colmar at this time of this year, we could see how the description that Colmar is "The Land of Christmas Stars" is most fitting.
November 25 to December 30, 2016

 Welcome to Colmar this holiday season!


There are Germanic and French influences in the architectural history of Colmar that have been adapted to the traditions and the culture of the local population. Prominent is the use of yellow and pink sandstone bricks from the Vosges  mountains, and the timber-frame construction.

Egise Saint-Martin

The collegiate Church of Saint Martin is an example of Gothic architecture in Alsace, constructed between 1235 and 1365. The south tower was destroyed by a fire in 1572, also damaging the framework and the the whole roof. Three years later, the roof was reconstructed with the original design of the lantern bulb - a dome constructed in the form of a lantern, giving it back its former silhouette. In the last restoration in 1982, traces of the foundation of a church going back to the year 1000 , and extensions made in the 11th and 12th centuries were discovered.
For the people of Colmar, they consider the St. Martins collegiate church as their cathedral. A collegiate church is one that has been given a "chapter of canons but without a bishop's see." This is because the two constitutional bishops who followed one another from 1790 to 1801 were not able to organize a diocese. A constitutional bishop was a Roman Catholic bishop who was elected among the clergy and sworn to follow the Civil Constitution during the French Revolution.

Built in 1537, for the hatter Ludwig Scherer, with medieval features, this house exemplifies architectural renaissance in Colmar. The family lived in this two-storey house, with a corner oriel window, a wood gallery, an octagonal turret with mural paintings with biblical themes, from 1841 to 1892.

The name, Petite Venise (Little Venise), came from the houses on both sides of the river, in the southeastern part of the city, from the Koïfhus, through the fishmonger's district, and to the bridges Turenne and Saint-Pierre. it is at the beginning of the Krutenau, which were the places of market gardening on the outskirts of towns. It was inhabited by rural wine-producers, market gardeners and boatmen.
In the warmer months, boat rides are offered on the waterways.


This is where the professional fishermen and boatmen lived, composing a powerful corporation. The fishes they caught were stored in fish ponds or sold directly from the fishmonger's district. This area was restored from 1978 to 1981 after a fire destroyed more than 40 homes. The half-timbered houses from the Tanners district and Little Venice were restored to how they were, then.

Timber- framing or half-timber construction is a building method, wherein, external and internal walls are constructed with timber frames, and the spaces between the wooden structures are filled with materials like bricks, plaster, or wattle and daub.

Wattle and daub is a a building material for making walls, in which wooden strips are woven to form the wattle, is daubed with a sticky material made by combining wet soil, clay, sand, animal dung with straw. This is making a comeback as a sustainable building technic.


Christmas Market - Place des Dominicains

There are sixty Christmas huts that offer decorations, fashion accessories,  and food specialties from the region in this market.
Our daytime walk around the Christmas market at Place des Dominicains
On our way back to the Christmas market by the Dominicain church 

With the Dominican Church in the background, the stained glass from the 14th century, lit  from within, was a beautiful addition to the Christmas market setting.

How the market ambiance changes from day to night.
Christmas Market  - PetiteVenise

This market was designed as a child's kingdom for the young and old. There are 43 cottages beautifully decorated, with treasures to admire or buy. Kids can write and post their letters to Santa in a giant postbox.

The animated Nativity display


Christmas Market - Place Jeanne d'Arc

This is a recreation of an Alsatian village, offering Alsatian culinary finds - foie gras, charcuterie, Christmas cakes and cookies, and more. And, vin chaud or mulled wine to help keep warm.
This lady attracted a lot of attention, as she was the only one dressed for the Christmas market in a traditional Alsatian outfit.

By late afternoon,  the Christmas lights were turned on.

By nighttime, the stage was fully set - with the glow of the lights which illuminated the market and the timber-framed homes and colorful structures in the background, with vin chaud in one hand and some Bredele cookies in the other - for us to experience a traditional Alsatian Christmas.


Christmas market - Place de l'Ancienne Douane

Fifty Christmas stalls are arranged here, near the fountain of Schwendi, which extends along the river. Koïfhuswhich houses the artisan vendors is not far from here.


Handicraft Christmas Market - At the Koïfhus

This is the old custom house, a medieval building, where 20 local artisans - ceramists, potters, glassmakers, cabinetmakers, woodworkers, hatters, jewellers, patissiers, etc., - are showcasing their products. 
The Toy Museum of Colmar set up this winter mountain-village  electric train display.

 The view below from the Koïfhus

A display by a patissier - 
a gingerbread-house winter village.

Christmas Tree Market

Varieties of Christmas trees, advent wreaths, and Christmas ornaments are available - all you need to create an Alsatian Christmas ambiance in your homes.

Artisanal-type  Christmas ornaments, made by crafters
Christmas globes with wintry scenes,  Christmas figurines, 
and stuffed toy ornaments
 Versions of le Père Noël (Father Christmas, now better known as Santa Claus in the west)


When family and friends gather together during the holiday season in Alsace, there is usually a table spread of gourmet, Alsatian delicacies to feast on. We, too, can experience a bit of this as we go around the Christmas market.
The scent of hot mulled wine with aromatic spices  fills the air. This is a blend of white and red wine, with added honey,  sharp flavors of lemon and orange, and spices like cinnamon, aniseed, nutmeg and cloves, the perfect accompaniment  to Bredele cookies. 
The non-alcoholic drink for the kids: jus de pomme chaud
At the Christmas market, the big people walk around sipping mulled wine, and for the kids, they  can enjoy their own warm beverage, too - an alcohol-free apple or orange juice. These warmed drinks are so perfect during the cold winter nights, especially,  when the blustery wind blows at your face.
Bredeles are sweet, small, dry-cookie delicacies served as snacks around the Christmas tree or the Advent wreath. These cookies are prepared  with cinnamon, orange, aniseed, chocolate and walnuts or almonds. In the market, you can buy and sample the cinnamon stars, butterbrele with butter, anisbredele dusted with aniseed, schwowebredle with almonds, spriyzbredle with lemon peel. They are sold by weight or packed in small cellophane sachets.
Gingerbread is very popular. They come in different shapes, sizes and flavors. Some are simply cut  into little diamond pieces, coated with a light sugar icing,  with ginger or dried fruit. These specialties are made with flour, honey and spices and are a traditional symbol of an Alsatian Christmas celebration. Gingerbread is typically served on the feast of Saint Nicholas. 

Among the fabricators of these Alsatian gingerbread varieties are Palais du Pain d'spices of Maison Fortwenger and Maison Lips Musée du Pain d'spices et des Douceurs d'Autrefois (Museum of Gingerbread and Delicacies of Yesteryear). 


In the Middle Ages, it was the monks who prepared a strong, malt-rich beer for the Christmas season. Now a days, it is the breweries that produce the beers, all in keeping with the tradition of producing special-edition beers at this time of the year. The Christmas beers have aromas of cinnamon, honey and ginger, and best served chilled between 10° to 12°. When you take a swig of beer, you are reminded to take it in moderation. The beer goes well with the regional spcialties of the season.
Foie gras has been a staple on the table when celebrating a French Christmas, since the 17th century. The foie gras'  rich, creamy taste - made from duck or goose liver, is best suited with a serving of the Alsatian wine produced in the region.
White and red wine from the Alsace region

It is not just in the food, but in the decorations, as well, are the flavors in their culinary Christmas specialties used, like in a fresh-pine wreath, Advent wreath, or swag decorated with sliced, dried oranges and tangerines or other fresh fruits and some nuts. 

Imagine all the aromas from the spices and fruit ingredients, some roasted nuts, permeating the air, which all add to the warmth of creating an Alsatian Christmas for the big celebration!



Christmas is just around the corner and we have brought back some of the Alsatian specialties and practices to bring some of the ambiance from here to our home.

Related Articles:
Christmas Market in Colmar: The Covered Market of Colmar
Christmas Market in Colmar: Hansi - an Artist from Colmar


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