I am a Christmas Market addict. I love them all, be it a tree and 2 stands selling roasted nuts and tacky ornaments, or markets that stretch for blocks decked out in perfectly matched lights. Paris has begun to dress for the holidays and I stop and gape at every new light and decoration. My little room is also decorated, though as 10 meters does not really leave room for a tree, I have opted for a Christmas poinsettia. One day the little girls and I sat in a tiny park near our house just watching them hang lights in the trees. Everyone becomes a little bit of a child at Christmas, and if they don’t, they are missing out.
I originally sought to go to the Marché de Noël in Strasbourg, said to be one of the most lovely in the world. Yet a recent purchase of The Boots (which I did find in brown) meant that a trip to Strasbourg was not the most practical investment. So instead, I am getting my Christmas market fix everywhere. The Champs Elysées boasts a lovely market, stretching in a long row of perfectly glittering trees and quaint booths selling vin chaud and gaufres (hot wine and Belgium waffles). I went with a friend and imagined that the pervading Parisian drizzle was snow as we wandered down the sparkling street. A chic market, and thus lacking in that small town feel that I love about Christmas markets, the Champs Elysées did offer a live nativity scene where anyone could pay two Euros to “discover the amazing Christmas crib and live animals!”
I was invited to go to the Marché de Noël in Janvry, a village of 300 people about 45 minutes south of Paris. Hosted in an old farm with stone outbuildings and barns, Janvry perfectly satisfied all of my Christmas market dreams. Not only was the setting perfect in every way – from the decked tree in the courtyard to the giant ornamental balls hanging from every archway, to the ubiquitous Christmas music, but also everyone was generous, solicitous, and friendly. One vendor spent ten minutes explaining to me the differences in honey types, while another encouraged us to try over a dozen types of tapenade, while another proudly explained exactly how she made her intricately quilted ornaments. In the background, children laughed as they took free rides through the crowds on the Christmas camel. Unfortunately, 22 year olds were denied camel access.
In one of Paris’ chic shopping districts there is a tiny Marché de Noël of no more than 8 stands. Not much, yet a cold drizzle and a chocolate crazing drove me there after the purchase of The Boots. The lady making the gaufres was in the process of dislodging one that had burnt, and apologizing profusely for the delay. My friend Jackie and I told her that it was of course, not a problem. In the states, this would speed the person up, but in France, she took this to mean it truly wasn’t a problem, and proceeded to give us all samples of nuts, pass off the discarded waffle to someone else waiting, tell us her life’s story, introduce us to her son, then search for empty paper towel rolls to give to a kid in line who needed them for a school project. All the while, she was telling us we were so nice, so nice, and that many customers would have gotten mad. I commented that that was often true, but sad as it is not at all reflective of Christmas spirit. Yes, she said, but it is the worst at Christmas, everyone is so stressed, so busy. As I walked away with my hot gaufre dripping nuttella and powdered sugar on my fingers, I thought how right she is. Everyone gets so stressed at Christmas, so busy, especially here in a big city where Santa is on every corner encouraging you to buy gifts and add more things to your to do list. We so often forget the real reason for the season, or if we remember it, it is in the commercialized form like that of the Champs Elysées, which would charge you two Euros for a glimpse at Him.