A World of Holiday Traditions – Part 1 : Vive Le Noel in France!
Lynn Elmhirst, Open Jaw Trends Editor

We may not be travelling over Christmas and New Year’s this year, but the good news is that we can still be inspired for the holidays by the destinations we love.

OpenJaw asked our Tourism Board friends to describe their favourite local holiday traditions, and we were overwhelmed with joyous responses. So brace yourself for festive cheer as we share treasured experiences and signature celebrations every day between now and Christmas.

Today : Vive le Noel!  Marie-Andree Boucher and Melanie Paul-Hus from Atout-France couldn’t pick just one French celebration of the season.

“Most of all, Christmas in France is the best time to celebrate around the table, and taste delicious fresh products and dishes of French gastronomy. Of course, with a glass of champagne!

“We have so many iconic destinations in France, we would like to tell you about a few of their traditions.”

Alsace – Christmas Markets

The region’s shared history with Germany means that Alsatian Christmas markets are some of the best in France.

Boucher tells OpenJaw, “The standout market is in the regional capital of Strasbourg. Created in 1570, it’s the oldest in France and one of the oldest in Europe. Initially confined to the cathedral and lasting three days, the market has continued to expand and develop, today occupying many places in the city. Festivities begin at the end of November and continue to the end of the year.”

Provence – Santons

Santons are hand-made clay figurines that are a charmingly tangible token of the season and Provencal craftsmanship.

According to Boucher, “The tradition of santons was developed in 1803 in Marseille. It wasn’t long before the ‘little saints’ were adorning Nativity scenes in homes all over Provence. Moss freshly picked to represent the scrubland, twigs of thyme for the olive trees, aluminium foil to make the river… as Christmas approaches, each family has its own traditions and different santons to design their ‘creche’, the miniature table-top tableau in Provence where the Nativity is staged with santons.”

Nativity scenes in homes throughout the region represent not only the biblical Holy Family, but also traditional villagers including men and women of different professions.  The villagers make delightful, non-religious souvenirs, and you can buy them in Provence year round.

© ADT Touraine/JC Coutand – Christmas at the Royal Fortress of Chinon,
in the Loire Valley

Loire Valley – Decking the Halls of Chateaux

“For the festive season, the chateaux of the Loire Valley don their most resplendent finery,” says Boucher. “Christmas trees in all their guises, wonderful wreaths, fantastic beasts, and plenty of delicious treats all fill the chateaux with the magic of a Christmas fit for a king!”

Martinique – Lifting Spirits with Song

Christmas in overseas French territories takes on new flavours, as Boucher describes.

“The filao trees are decked with beautiful lights; the fragrance of creole pastries and sausages stirs your senses; the orange peel has been macerating for months in the Shrubb; and hymns resound with the beautiful voices of the “Chanté Nwel”…!     

“You’ll love our “Chanté Nwel” evening parties, where we eat, drink and above all sing hymns for the occasion. That’s how you know it’s getting close to Christmastime in Martinique.  How do you fancy the idea of spending your Christmas holidays in perfect 28-degree weather?”

Paris – Magic at the Galeries Lafayette

In the City of Lights, the holidays are well-known to be awe-inspiring. For Boucher, one place in Paris stands out.

“Every year, as the festive season draws near, a majestic Christmas tree appears beneath the stunning dome ceiling of Galeries Lafayette’s Paris Haussmann store – a long-held and much-loved tradition,” says Boucher.

“This year, in the spirit of “A Christmas Voyage”, the tree is decked out in ornaments from around the world and tells the story of the final stage in Celeste’s exciting expedition. Thousands of gifts hang from its snow-topped branches, reflecting the faraway lands visited on the fabulous journey, along with colourful pom poms and embroidered baubles. And dancing decoratively around the tree are glittering lanterns and Jules Védrines’ plane. To top it all off, the dome lights go out every 30 minutes to reveal a spectacular sound and light show.”

You Can Celebrate Too: Win a Trip to Paris

In case you hadn’t already heard, Boucher and Paul-Hus were eager to remind OpenJaw readers that Explore France and Air France are running a contest during the holidays to win a trip for two to Paris. Entries are accepted until JAN5, 2020 and you can click here to enter.

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