What were you doing in 1570? Oh wait, that was 37 years before your ancestors had possibly even come over on the Mayflower and 200 years before America was officially a country. But since then, for 448 years, Strasbourg has hosted the “Christkindelsmärik,” the oldest Christmas market in Europe.
Since my parents were with us for two weeks over the holidays last year, we decided what more perfect place to be on Christmas Day than The Capital of Christmas?!
We were first-time train travelers, but the process of boarding in Paris and riding straight to Strasbourg couldn’t have been easier. We had four seats facing each other, and our Airbnb host even picked us up from the train station.
Our apartment rental was accessible to the town center by tram, but it was so close that we ended up finding it just as easy to walk. We love renting through Airbnb, especially when traveling with my dad, who loves to cook, so that we can make some of our own meals to save money. Since we stayed over the holidays, we were glad to wake up on Christmas morning and be in a real home.
There are no less than ten Christmas markets in place around the 2000-year old Alsatian town that borders Germany. Each one has a different theme, but all are packed with goodies, people, and cheer.
This being our first experience at a European Christmas market, the four of us were absolutely enamored by the elaborate decorations and winding aisles of stalls overflowing with hot food, mulled drinks, candy, ornaments, wood-carved knick-knacks, jewelry, teddy bears, you name it.
We had planned to take part in some festivities, but the guided tour I had seen was only available in French. It didn’t matter, because there was so much to see and do without having a planned activity.
Mostly our time consisted of carrying around a warm drink (cider, vin chaud – mulled wine, or hot chocolate), examining the artists’ handiwork, looking for souvenirs, and indulging in snacks at all hours of the day.
Seeing the inside of the Notre Dame was stunning, and from the outside the cathedral created a nice backdrop for the market “chalets,” or stalls.
Almost every single one of the half-timbered houses was dripping in Christmas cheer – lights were strung, garlands were wrapped, and all manner of ornaments, figurines, and any other objects that could be sustained on a wall or balcony were hung.
As night fell on December 23, we meandered over to a Protestant church nestled next to one of the markets. An evening of carols was scheduled, which we didn’t want to miss, especially after my tour idea fizzled out. We scattered, hustling to grab more rounds of vin chaud and hot chocolate, but the gates were closed by the time we met up. Fortunately we hung around and a kind soul opened the doors for us. We snuck in the back and were handed a booklet of carols, the words in French. We dreamily listened and sang along as the conductor warmly directed the church in celebration.
To cap off the evening, we wove our way through the crowds to see the “Grand sapin de noel.” The 30-meter live Christmas tree, a gift from France’s National Forestry Office, steals the show in Place Kléber. The UNESCO World Heritage city square is dubbed the “village for sharing” during the Christmas season, and was dotted with booths by charitable associations.
On Christmas Eve day, we had a slow morning in our Airbnb – we slept in, my dad made breakfast, we played games, and showered before heading out for the day. Again we had no real plan for the day other than drinking warm beverages and browsing the Christmas markets. As evening rolled around, we decided to go back to the Protestant church for their Christmas Eve service, where we sung more hymns and heard the Christmas story.
We wandered the quiet streets taking in the lights once last time. Then, since we hadn’t made dinner reservations, we wound up eating Christmas Eve dinner at a Jewish restaurant near our rental apartment. The food was decent, though we laughed about trying to hide our red and green sweaters and our excitement over Christmas!
Where is the most Christmas-y place you’ve ever been??