Christmas with Tradition
The Strasbourg Christmas market, whose origins date back to 1570, is one of the oldest in France. Its reputation in Europe has since only increased, thanks not only to its merchant tradition, but also to the spirit of tolerance and humanism that constitutes its history and identity.
The Christmas market, or Christkindelmärik in the Alsatian dialect, and the Christmas tree have existed since the Middle Ages.
At that time the fair was called the Klausenmärik or ‘Saint Nicholas Market’. Fairs and markets being numerous in this era in the large towns of the Roman-Germanic Saint Empire, this festive celebration was aimed above all at distributing presents among the children on the occasion of the celebration of Saint Nicolas.
On 22 December 1570 the Conseil des 21, the municipal council of the time, made the decision to uphold the principle of the fair, but from then on to dedicate it to the Christkindel, the Infant Jesus, who reigns over all Christians. Thus was born the Christkindelmärik, which would withstand the vagaries of history.
After 1870, the Christmas market was set up in the place Broglie, where it still bustles today. The same products from back then continue to be sold there: fir trees, Christmas decorations, cribs, ornamental figures, locally-made handicrafts, confectionery and culinary delights accompanied by mulled wine.
Since the 1990s, the Christmas market has spread to other places: Place de la Gare, Place de la Cathédrale, Place du Château, as well as to all areas of Strasbourg. Gradually, it has been enriched with activities around the theme of Christmas (concerts, exhibitions, activities etc.).
The Christmas Tree
The tradition of the Christmas tree also has its roots in Alsace. Throughout the Middle Ages, ‘Games of Paradise’ (stories depicting the history of creation) took place in front of churches on Christmas Eve and it was a fir tree covered with apples that represented the tree of paradise.
From 1521 onwards, in Sélestat, a municipal edict was passed to “authorise the forest guards to let small fir trees be chopped down in view of the celebration of Christmas”. The custom quickly spread across the whole of Alsace. Originally, fir trees were decorated with apples, sugar, multicoloured roses, and later with bredle: small, traditional Alsatian biscuits made over the festive Christmas period.
Legend has it that around 1850, when apples were scarce owing to drought, the glassworkers of Meisenthal fashioned apples out of blown glass, and that Christmas baubles were born thanks to the shortage of apples.
The war of 1870 brought about the emigration of many Alsatians. As a result, the custom of celebrating Christmas gradually took over all the regions of France, with the fir tree subsequently conquering Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, the Scandinavian countries, England and the United States.