Let me start out by saying that I am incredibly shocked by this weather that we are having in the north of France. Last year, at this time, it was snowy, slightly miserable, and freezing cold. This time around, I am looking out at a blue sky, 45 degrees, and no snow. Although the snow can be beautiful, it can also be quite a hassle when it comes to travel plans. My brother arrives in a week (AH!) and we have not yet had any snow. I’m praying it stays that way so that we can travel peacefully by train… as long as my beloved Frenchies don’t go on strike!
The ambiance of the Christmas season in France is similar to that in the United States, but it is presented in a different way. When I think of Christmas back home, I think of excitement, lots of shopping, family, food, pictures with Santa, and decorations at home (as well as at the malls). In France, there is definitely an air of excitement as well. I went to Lille four times last week and each time, the city was packed with people out to do their Christmas shopping. Walking in the streets, I felt like I was in a mosh pit; each time someone would move, the whole crowd would move as well. Since it took us several minutes to move not very far, at least we had time to take in all the beautiful decorations and lights that adorn the streets and buildings in the city. French cities, unlike my hometown in the states, go all-out when it comes to decorating for Christmas. Garlands, lights, bows, and trees are seen left, right, up, and down. Everywhere!
Another thing that I love about Christmas in France is the Christmas Markets, or Marchés de Noël. Even my city of Douai (45,000 people) has a substantial Christmas Market that takes place in the city center. There are little chalets with fake-snowy covered roofs that are all lined up next to each other where vendors sell their gift items that are sure to please everyone. There is anything from clothing to hand-made soaps to jewelry to decorative items… and more. You can find traditional food and drinks, like chestnuts (roasted on an open fire, might I add!) and vin chaud, also known as hot “mulled wine” that has been warmed with delicious spices. These Christmas Markets are something that I have never seen in the US, but I think it may be because our cities don’t always have a main square in the downtown area that is well-suited to host dozens of snowy chalets. It’s a shame, because these markets really set the tone for the Christmas season in France!
This will be my first Christmas away from home EVER, but for that reason, I want to make it special. I am so thankful that my parents are sending my brother over the ocean to spend some time with me for the holidays (even though I am sure it will be quite difficult for them to have both children away on Christmas day! For that, I thank them even more!). I am so looking forward to showing my brother, and his friend Matt who is coming along, why I love Europe at Christmastime and in general. From Paris, to the Lille region, to Cologne, I think it will be a very special Christmas for us all!