Friend and fellow traveler Lynne Martin, author of Home Sweet Anywhere (a book I highly recommend) and blogger at Home Free Adventures, asked me to describe celebrating Christmas in Paris as an expat. I took a moment to think about what makes the city of lights even brighter during the holidays, and having spent many a holiday season in Paris, here is what I came up with. You an also find this article online at TravelSmith!
What is it about Christmas time in Paris that truly captivates the senses? Where to begin…
The intimacy of the sidewalk cafes with their heat lamps and blankets, beneath which you can indulge in a glass of seasonal mulled wine. The street vendors selling roasted chestnuts on many a corner. The annual holiday markets scattered around the city, revealing an array of artisanal gift ideas. But I suspect it’s the culinary specialties from various regions of France that draw the crowds. My favorites include raclette and the more decadent tartiflette, hailing from the Haute-Savoie.
Known for their pâtisseries, it’s no surprise that the French celebrate Christmas with cake. The bûche de Noël originally represented the yule log, a sponge cake with a bark-like texture made of buttercream. Many variations can be found around Paris, each more decadent than the last. Beginning in late December, pastry shops in Paris fill their windows with galettes des rois, or King Cake, to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6th. A good luck charm called la fève is baked inside this puff pastry filled with frangipane, and whoever’s piece contains la fève is crowned king or queen for the day. The cobbled streets sparkle, each dressed in it’s own string of holiday lights. The Champs Elysées glows the brightest of all, each year in late November a lighting ceremony takes place, with thousands of fairy lights lit along this grand boulevard. Yet another reason why Paris is so often referred to as the City of Lights.
At the grands magasins including Printemps, Galeries Lafayette, Le Bon Marché, and Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, the window displays are reminiscent of theatre sets, revealing animated Christmas scenes that leave both young and old marveling. Often a family trip is taken to view these story-telling windows.
We cannot forget the celebrated churches. My first Christmas in Paris was spent at Notre Dame Cathedral. The choir alone was worth braving the crowds, as they filled the 800 year old space with song, a midnight mass never to be forgotten. Even passing by the Notre Dame by night, the majestic sparkling Christmas tree will take your breath away.
Wherever you are in the world, I wish you happy holidays + a bright and happy new year!