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Quite a History of Yuletide Festivity: How a Ferry to France Revived my Christmas Spirit

Many might be hard pushed to accept it, but Christmas is just around the corner. Holiday adverts have been on repeat since the middle of August, jingle bells accompany my every footstep and that familiar pre-festive panic is in the air. Mothers with furrowed-brows line the high street whilst turkeys the size of pigs hunch patiently in the frozen aisle, preparing for their Christmas destiny. But am I prepared for mine?

Every year, I dread Christmas. Actually, not dread… hate. There, I said it. I hate Christmas. And what? I hate the expense. I hate the greed. I hate the tinsel. I hate the way everyone does the same thing every year. Imagine eating a lasagne on the 25th of December, you’d be laughed out of town. How about a nice lemon meringue instead of a Christmas pudding, the national press would be up in arms!

Naturally, it’s no wonder many fall out of love with the season of materialism. After all, so much is expected of you and if Christmas doesn’t have “all of the trimmings,” it becomes “disappointing” and “not like it is on the telly.” A few years ago, Christmas Day was such an ashamedly average affair that my boyfriend and I decided that enough was enough, something had to change. We realized that instead of stressing out about stocking fillers, we should be treating the holiday season as just that – a holiday. Question was: could we really leave town until every trace of tinsel had been eradicated?

 

Franco-Germanic, Baby

Yes, we decided. And that was that. At first, we couldn’t agree on where to go.  My boyfriend wanted to marinate himself in German beer whilst I fancied the wine and elegance of France. He was hankering for stollen, I was craving cigarettes. God knows why we’re together; our cultural tastes are completely off kilt.

Anyway, lucky for us, there’s one place in the world that can cater for both of our travelling needs. Strasbourg.

Petite_France_Christmas

Strasbourg at Night – Photo by  Michael.Camilleri

Nestling sweetly on the French/German border, Strasbourg is completely unique in that it offers tourists a real Franco-Germanic experience. You read that right, Franco-Germanic. Also, we could take our car and cruise around the continent like wanton freeloaders. Plus, the ferry to France was as cheap as can be. Win, win and more win!

As we drove onto the ferry and waved goodbye to the grey skies of Blighty, we turned in unison to look ahead at the steady horizon of Europe, drinking in our quite conviction. Yes, Christmas was going to be different this year.

Strasbourg, oh Strasbourg, the city of surprises and romance. My boyfriend and I had absolutely no preconceptions of the place before we arrived. The whole booking process was done of an evening over a bottle of wine and for the reasons outlined above; Strasbourg seemed like an obvious choice. Little did we know that Strasbourg is where the Christmas tree was invented (well, not invented but, you know, the act of decorating a pine tree began here, yeah?) and is, quite literally, the epicentre of the Christmas spirit.

Christmas_Tree_Strasbourg

A Strasbourg Christmas Tree  – Photo by notfrancois

Picture the perfect Dickensian town, soft with snow and twinkly lights. Now, fill that image with the smell of gingerbread, mulled wine and cinnamon. Lastly, listen for the gentle hum of Christmas carollers, singing harmoniously in the distance. It sounds like a corny kid’s book, doesn’t it? But at Christmas time, Strasbourg is literally like stepping through that Christmas-tree-door in The Nightmare Before Christmas. You know that bit where Jack the Pumpkin King keeps singing “What’s this? What’s this? There’s white things in the air” and everything is sickeningly enchanting? That’s Strasbourg.

After all, it’s got quite a history of yuletide festivity. The city centre has held the famous Christkindelsmärik (Christmas market) near Strasbourg cathedral since 1570. Here, over sixty stalls of decadence spill across the streets, selling everything from candy canes to gingerbread houses. It also features the most ginormous Christmas tree one can ever wish to clap their eyes on, which makes sense from the city that started the trend.

When we first arrived it really was a nightmare (before Christmas, LOL). It was as if everything we’d tried to escape in the UK had followed us over the channel, only here it was louder and more intense. However, as we soon realized, it’s pretty easy to get swept up with the magic of it all. After day two, it felt like we were on the set of a Christmas movie and everyone was acting happy just for our benefit, just to give us the perfect Christmas.

We stayed in a lovely hotel  near the Petite France region of Strasbourg, an amazingly picturesque hamlet that’s largely unchanged since medieval times. Most of the buildings are half-timbered and likely a major reason that the City of Strasbourg became France’s first UNESCO world heritage site.

Germanic influences can be felt everywhere in Strasbourg, not just in the name. The fact that we could walk over a small foot-bridge and find ourselves in the German town of Kehl was an unexpected joy, as was the mixture of languages spoken on the streets. This city is quintessentially European (as luck would have it, it’s also where the European Parliament is situated!) and yet it’s completely defined by the beauty of its architecture.

Needless to say, Strasbourg had us spell-bound and after a long weekend of wandering around a fairy tale, we came back to the UK with the rosy cheeks and private jokes of a couple who’ve had the faith restored in Christmas.

A Guest Post
By Emily Buchanan

 

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