Christmas Markets & What’s Up In France
I was originally going to title this post “what’s going on in France?”, because I’m sure that’s what many of my blog readers are wondering right now. It’s December and almost Christmas, but France is definitely not at rest and we’ve had many folks message us to ask us if we’re safe and whether it’s really as bad as it seems from the outside. So, what’s up?
Well, If you’ve been watching the news, you’ve probably heard about the “Gilets Jaune” (the yellow vests). The movement started as a protest against (yet another) tax on fuel, but has now expanded to cover grievances over quality of life in general, overall taxation (especially for the poorer population) & Macron in particular. In some of the bigger cities (e.g. Paris) things have even turned violent with tear gas and armored cars on the streets. It’s no small thing.
I’m not going to comment on the political side of the situation (I never do, in my blogs), but I can certainly confirm that these are deep-rooted issues that have been building for some time, and the protests are likely to go on for a while. But the violence that you see on the international news is not as wide-spread as it seems. So while there have been heavy protests in Toulouse (our nearest “big city”) the countryside where we live, has remained relatively calm.
We see “Gilets Jaune” at the local roundabouts, and we interact and talk to the locals about the situation (it’s an important subject for everyone), but apart from slowing down traffic and a few blockades here and there, there has been no real issues. So we’ve basically just been going about our daily business as usual, supporting our local Frenchman as we can, while avoiding the big roads and Toulouse on the week-ends. It’s not quiet, but it’s not as crazy at it seems from the outside, at least here in the boonies. So, thanks for all your messages, but we are fine 🙂
Christmas Markets Are Here!
Political news aside, this is actually a fabulous time to be in the French countryside.
The end of fall has left the trees bare and transformed the fields into hues of ochre and brown. The weather is crisp, clear and sunny and the Pyrénées are getting progressively whiter as winter snow starts to fall on their slopes. It’s beautifully stark.
Plus it’s the start of the Christmas Market season!
For those of you who’ve never heard of European Christmas Markets they’re a yearly thing with a deep tradition. The first markets were held in the German-speaking parts of Europe and the Eastern parts of France during the late Middle Ages. There are records of Christmas Markets in Munich in 1310, Bautzen in 1384 and Dresden in 1434. Vienna has a pretty deep tradition too, with a history of “December Markets” (a precursor to the traditional Christmas Market) dating back to 1298. And in France the oldest market can be traced back to Strasbourg where it started in 1570.
And all of these markets are still active today!
They are truly are spectacular events and they take over entire towns throughout the month of December. Christmas food, trinkets & more are offered in cozy settings with lots of pride and Christmas cheer. They’re not only visually stunning, but also a true delight to visit. If they’re not on your “bucket list”, they should be!
You Can Find Them Throughout France
The Christmas Markets in Southwestern France are not nearly as large or famous as their German or Eastern French counterparts, but they’ve become are a core tradition here too and are well worth attending. They typically start around the beginning of December and pretty much EVERY town offers one.
Bigger cities have large, well-established markets that run throughout the month. For example here in Toulouse, the yearly Christmas Market is held at the Place du Capitole, a large square in the very heart of the city. It opens at the end of November and runs daily through Dec 26th (from~10AM to ~8PM) and it consists of over 120 vendors in individual “chalets” selling everything from handmade items to clothing & food.
Most of the vendors are local artisans so it’s a great place to pick-up specialties from the region while at the same time supporting local farms & smaller businesses. Plus it’s just as magical during the day as it is at night (with lights). It’s a cool market to attend.
In smaller towns, the Marché de Noël is even an quainter and cozier affair.
Out in the countryside it’s usually just a 1 or 2 day thing, held in the local square or town hall and it’s something the whole town attends. There will be local artisans, folks offering hot cider, roasted chestnuts & homemade cakes, and stands selling items supporting local groups or charities. Folks are super friendly and inviting, and everything you buy goes to the local town in some way, which I really like. I find the local markets super cozy, and actually prefer them over the bigger ones.
How To Find French Christmas Markets? The easiest way is simply to Google “Marché de Noël” and the city or area you plan to visit. Most tourist offices and town halls (“Mairies”) will also have info on their websites. For example in Haute Garonne (our department) you can find all the active markets HERE.
Christmas Lights, Concerts & Masses
The other big thing in France in December are Christmas Lights & shows.
Every town will put up Christmas decorations, typically lights (hung up through town) and Christmas trees (both real and sculptures), but some towns go a step further and make the lights an event. For example, in Lyon there is a rather famous “Fête des Lumières” that happens every year from within the first 2 weeks of Dec, whereas in our region the biggest light show is the annual lantern festival in Gaillac that runs all the way into Feb.
There are lots of concerts and masses take place in December too. A Concert de Noël is typically held in every major town, and traditional masses will take place at the local churches both for Christmas Eve and to introduce the New Year. We’ve attended mass at our town church and it’s always a moving affair.
How To Find French Concerts & Masses? For concerts in bigger towns, Google is your friend. Simple search “Concert de Noël” and the city you plan to be. For concerts & masses in smaller towns, the local Church will usually have a list of their upcoming events posted somewhere by the church.
What Are WE Doing For Christmas?
Well, we had GRAND PLANS, oh yes we did, but alas it was not meant to be. Originally we were going to take the new RV to the UK, all 3 of us and the pets. But the permanent license plates for our rig have not yet arrived, so we cannot take it out of France. It’s a classic French delay and just one of those things you’ve got to roll with. So, we’ve decided to hold Christmas in France and delay our RV travel plans until the new year. Somewhere in the big scheme of things, I’m sure it was meant to be so we’ll just soak it all in here, and see what the New Year brings.
In the meantime I’m sure I’ll have a few Christmas goodies to share with you, so hang tight for those. And for the rest of the wait, I’ll leave you with one of our fabulous winter sunsets. This could rival a SW desert sunset, don’t you think?SPONSORED LINK:
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Sue Malone says
Good to hear the local version of what we are seeing on the news, Nina. Thank you, and glad all is well with you. The Christmas Markets look like so much fun. Friends Erin and Mui are taking her mom to Germany on one of those river cruises specifically for the German Christmas Markets. It is a bucket list thing for a lot of people I think. Nice to see your take on that as well.
Oh yes, the German cruises. They are supposed to be fab! We are certainly going to see the German markets at some point. I love our cozy little French ones, but the large, traditional German ones are supposed to be absolutely spectacular. One day…
Glad to hear you are not being impacted by what we have seen on the news in Paris. I never know how serious the situation is when being an armchair observer. Your Christmas markets look charming. I think I would enjoy those in the smaller villages more than the larger cities. We are still planning a trip to Spain and Portugal in the fall, probably leaving right after Labor Day and staying 2-3 months. We are just in the initial planning stages right now but would love to see you both again if we are within a stone’s throw. I will keep you posted.
Yes!!!! Definitely keep us in the loop. We’d love to see you here.
Yes, Nina, the sunsets are as beautiful! I’m sure you were all looking forward to spending Christmas with your sister and babe, but New Year’s will be fun too! It’s all good, right?
Merry Christmas to you and Paul and sweet Polly from the Bank family.
Yup it’s all good. Weather is beautiful here at the moment, and with everything going on it’s nice to have our quiet corner of the world to retreat to.
Lisa Cantrell says
Joyeux Noël Nina and Paul. Various friends have been reporting on their experiences with les gilets jaunes and have similar reports so am glad to hear you are among them. One of the things I love about France though is how everyone knows and has an opinion about what is happening.
Hope your Christmas will be just as merry and fulfilling as it would have been with your sister et famille and you’re probably right and maybe the universe actually has better plans in store. Hope so.
We are also experiencing the stark and cold of winter-not-in-the-temperate-zone and with my desire to see snow fulfilled on Nov 9, with a promise for more for Christmas, we will be happily heading south to defrost.
Can’t wait to start seeing your travels!
I totally agree with your comment about folks being involved and aware in France. Politics is a passionate subject here, and everyone is part of the discussion. I do like that aspect of it.
It’s good to hear that you guys are doing ok & how things look on the ground (out of the cities).
Looking forward to hearing of your European RV adventures!
Keep your head down & Merry Christmas!!
Thanks for the political update… love Christmas markets… and yes those sunset photos are spectacular .
Jodee Gravel says
The markets look wonderful – especially the little wooden chalets with local goodies. The area looks like a wonderful place for the holidays. Beautiful sunsets!!
The wooden chalets are part of the Christmas Market charm. I think it’s really cute.
Mary Ann says
Beautiful sunsets!! I am going to see France at Christmas SOMEDAY!
Some of those sunsets looks like you were snapping them in the US Southwest. Great pics.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how intense the sunsets can get here. Warms my SW-longing heart.
Diane and Casey says
Today I am hearing of a shooting in the Christmas market. Praying this is not the one you are speaking of and you and family are well and safe.
Thank you for thinking of us, but that happened in Strasbourg, which is very far away from our corner of France. Very sad and shocking news though…very unusual to hear about shootings in France.
Bob McLean says
‘Les Protestations’ and the French way of life seem (to me, at least) to go hand in hand. Once upon a time, way back in the late seventies, when I was a student at the “Institut Brittanique”, (It’s now called the University of London Institute in Paris btw) I recall one day being cautioned not to go out onto the street by the usual means, as there was a demonstration taking place, and it was no place for students/strangers/onlookers. C’etait la vie.
It is definitely a part of the culture here in France, ever since the Revolution. When folks are upset, they take their grievances to the streets, and it happens every year. I guess the equivalent “cultural quirk” in the US would be suing someone. C’est la vie, like you said.
Southwest desert sunsets? No, but close. Headed to Q in a few weeks. Wish you were here to soak them in. Your Baby Beast would be a smash hit. Glad to read you are both safe.
Yeah nothing quite compares to those desert sunsets. I do miss the desert!
Ralph E. says
Before Nina and Paul left for Europe there were a ton of no – go zones over there including London, Paris, and other places. At that time the governments wanted to ban people from saying where such places were located. So hopefully you stay away from those places.
Ralph E. says
I liked you fall color photo, but Michigan’s UP is the best that I’ve ever seen this year. The family has gone out of state for fall color tours such as Shenandoah National Park, but the UP is it for me this year.
Stay safe. A European Christmas market sounds grand. I’m very jealous!
Frank and Grainne Foley says
Won’t comment on the first but thanks for the insiders view. It looks absolutely fantastic there. Really makes us miss Europe- especially this time of year. The markets are so nice to wander.
Thanks for the post!
Frank and Grainne
The Roving Foleys
Great post and update. Glad you’re safe. The towns and markets look fantastic. Thanks for posting the photos.
Steve H says
Love European Christmas markets!! Wish I was there.