It’s Almost Christmas in Paris

Written by admin on December 19, 2009 – 12:19 pm -

It’s almost Christmas, and Paris looks more festive than ever. If there’s a recession, it’s hard to tell based on the number of people (the majority of whom are French) walking up the Avenue des Champs-Élysée on the last Saturday of November.

From the Place de la Concorde to l’Étoile, 400 trees edging both sides of the avenue are wrapped in more than a million lights. It’s a dramatic display of shimmering twinkles. The Ferris wheel at the end of the Tulleries Garden at the Concorde is incredible to watch whether or not you have the nerve to climb aboard for one of the greatest views of Paris including the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre.

There is a Scrooge element—and it’s understandable. Some Paris residents try to steer clear of the Champs-Élysée because it’s too commercial and is the land of tourists. To name a few landmarks, there’s a McDonald’s, Virgin Megastore, Louis Vuitton, Citroen, Mercedes, Peugeot, Haagen-Dazs, Nike, more restaurants than you can name with terraces cascading onto the sidewalk (thank goodness for space heaters and awnings when it’s cold and especially if you need a smoke), and so many movie theaters that New Yorkers might think they are in Times Square. Abercrombie and Fitch has announced it’s going to open a Paris outlet there.

Funny how this ho-ho-ho season happens every year, zooming in whether or not people are ready. Even if you’re not a believer in the religious aspects, you can’t help but be affected, even moved, if you’re living in a nominally Christian country. There’s nowhere to escape all of the Yuletide joy even when you don’t feel joyous

One major difference between the U.S. and France is the French have a jump on “doing” Christmas because they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. On the other hand, the French government doesn’t allow sales to take place until January 6, and the winter sales officially end on February 9, 2010.

So much for waiting to visit friends until the day after Christmas and stopping on your way at your favorite store to buy them an already reduced gift. Promotions do take place, but legally, those items are supposed to be ones that don’t come out of the store’s regular stock. Go figure.

This year, as usual, there’s a Christmas market on the Champs Élysée, and even at nearly midnight in the rain, the area is always so jammed that people are bumping into each other. So much for personal space.

The Paris tourist office is marketing the City of Light big time. It’s not only targeting foreign tourists but also ones from other parts of the France. Many people are hopping on high-speed trains to visit their capital. So don’t be surprised by crowds.

There are other Christmas markets throughout France, with wonderful handcrafted ornaments, gifts and food items. Work a visit to the Christmas markets into your plans if you’ll be in Paris around Christmas. Below is a list of some of the major markets:

  • Paris features several Christmas markets, with most starting sometime between late November and early December. Consult the Paris Tourism Office for a list of the markets.
  • Strasbourg - Nov. 29 to Dec. 24 – This is one of the largest Christmas markets in France.
  • Mulhouse – Nov. 21 to Dec. 31 – This Alsatian market features shopping while sipping mulled wine and Christmas biscuits.
  • Menton – December – The 15-day worldwide Christmas festival in this charming Riviera town features lights, shows, the Christmas market and nativity scenes. For more information, contact the Menton Office of Tourism.
  • Orleans – December – This Loire Valley city, and home to Joan of Arc, hosts a Marche de Noel. For more information, visit the Orleans Tourism Office.

Most residents of Paris cave into their bah humbug sentiments and make at least one pilgrimage to the Champs-Élysée. This is especially true if they have young children who think there may be a Père Noël.

Don’t miss the exploring the Place Vendome and Paris’s shopping streets. If you want to get into the Christmas spirit, go window shopping (in this case, looking) at the major department stores: Galeries Lafayette, Printemps and Au Bon Marche.

If you feel like being elegant, dress up and take a tour of Paris’s five-star hotels; The Meurice, The Bristol, The Four Seasons, The Ritz, Le Crillon – and those are just a few.

Save enough time to stop in churches and savor one of the most beautiful cities in the world dressed in its Christmas best. I love seeing her from a boat cruising the Seine. And yes, Christmas in Paris isn’t Christmas without visiting Notre Dame.

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