There’s nothing quite like Christmas in the city of lights, where bustling markets are filled with mulled wine and spiced aromas and each street is lit with a warm blue glow from the sparkling fairy lights. Paris is festooned with a toasty festive feel and the ice bitten boulevards come alive with jubilant shoppers, choirs, carols and the hum of Noel spirit. So if you are the other side of the channel this year, here is how to maximize your French Christmas and make the most of what this enchanting city has to offer.
Clusters of wooden shacks selling hot, spiced wine and toasted chestnuts are lined in glittering rows where the fragrance of fresh gingerbread and traditional French sweets bring the stalls to life.
Avenue des Champs-Elysees
This is the largest market in Paris, stretching from Champs-Elysees roundabout to the Place de Concorde. Come here for your every Christmas need and enjoy the festive shacks full of delights. Metro: Champs Elysées-Clemenceau or Concorde
In the surreal setting of high-rise buildings this 350 stand strong market pumps out jovial Christmas tunes and has the most celebratory decorations in Paris. Metro/RER: La Défense
Notre Dame Cathedral
For the first time in festive history a large market dedicated to arts, crafts and elegant cuisine will be setting up on the square outside Notre Dame Cathedral. Rumours circling Paris are that mulled wine, chestnuts and Santa Claus himself will be making an appearance at this square. Metro/RER: St Michel or Cité
With over 120 stands selling a charming array of Christmas goods, an ice skating rink and ‘snow villages’, this market is ideal for family outings. The rink is expansive and the whole atmosphere has an infectious Christmas charm. Metro: Trocadero
For breath-taking views and an ice-skating experience that will have you skating on top of Paris, visit the rink on the first level of the Eiffel Tower. How many people have skated on the iconic Paris landmark?
Food is an integral part of Christmas in France and in abundance is best. Homes are laden with fresh fruits, dried fruits, chocolate, bread, meats, stews and plenty of vin chaud. Truly an epicurean’s nirvana, a whole host of French delicacies can be bought at the markets and tables are heavy with rabbits, pheasants, scallops, pears and oranges, pyramids of round cheeses and crusty bread. I indulge in the bounteous amounts of chocolate, special cakes, chestnuts and of course the rich, cream filled bûche de Noël cake, made in the shape of a Yule log.
Veillee de Noel is a special time filled with anticipation and reserved excitement. You cannot spend Christmas in Paris without attending midnight mass; it is the highlight of the season. Venturing out into the frost painted avenues, dressed smartly and wrapped up in woollen hats and thick, fleecy scarves, there is fizzing elation in the air. All of the churches in Paris are open for Christmas Eve and have a wonderful, candle lit service, with singing, prayers and a baby Jesus procession. I have heard that mass in Notre Dame is quite spectacular, you can’t book a seat, but turn up early and you may find that there is a spare pew.
Lights and displays
Light displays are ubiquitous in Paris, covering the entire city is a sprinkling of lights and every district transforms into a mini wonderland, however there are places where the more astonishing lights preside.
The exalted Champs Elysees is bathed in lights every winter and edged with verdant fir trees that stretch from Place de l’Etoile to Place de la Concorde. This year promises to be divine as even more magical lights and awesome projectors will illuminate this majestic area.
Paris Department Stores
The quintessential Parisian department stores can be found near the Opera Garnier and are always flooded with lights and elaborate window decorations. They fill the area with a festive cheer that adults and children love.
As popular and celebrated as Christmas itself, Epiphany on January 6th is an essential date in the French calendar. Epiphany celebrates the date infant Jesus was visited and the three wise men arrived from the East, guided by the star of Bethlehem, to offer gifts. You have to try the Gallette des Rois (King’s Cake) on this day; these golden roulettes adorn the windows of nearly every patisserie in Paris and are made of puff pastry with almond cream.