Marche de Noel, by Rich Paschall
Each winter the Christmas markets are a highly anticipated event throughout Europe and in many parts of the world. They typically included local food and drink, crafts, and of course, toys. You will find the official town Christmas tree, often the tallest they can find. Some will even include a Merry Go Round. These festive events normally run from late November to late December.
Some are held in the town square or large open area. Some will continue down the streets as local merchants try to make the most of the holiday season. Lights and decorations abound as each city or village tries to make its Christmas markets the best of the region. In Chicago, we hold it in Daley Plaza in the heart of downtown.
Last year most markets were canceled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. For many towns and merchants, this was a heavy financial burden. Some makers of the various Christmas crafts earn most of their money in the holiday season. No one wanted a repeat of last year.
This year my travels resumed and I found myself in France as the Christmas season was about to begin. Markets across Europe were preparing to open. Coronavirus was also on the rise. In Germany, the seven-day average of new cases rose from about 8000 at the end of September to 58,000 near the end of November. Like the USA, there is a plague of anti-vaxxers taking away the freedom of all the rest. As France, also with coronavirus on the rise, prepared to open markets, Germany was ordering markets to stay closed. The Christmas markets in the state of Bavaria, including Munich and Nuremberg, were closed.
Austria was under lockdown and the famous Viennese market has not opened. This market is among the oldest known Christmas markets. COVID is on the rise in Austria and the conservative government has decided that extreme measures were necessary. Anti-vaxxers have taken to the streets.
Berlin markets are open, Prague is closed. Chicago market is open, Toronto is closed. Strasbourg market is open, as are others in France. Millions of tourists may be disappointed if they chose to travel while COVID makes a dramatic increase.
The Alsation town of Obernai was believed to be founded in the year 1240. It is located a little north of Selestat where I was staying and south of the European capital at Strasbourg. The German border is just to the east.
The Obernai Christmas market was the first to open in this region. They provide a sprawling atmosphere from a small square with some holiday booths and continuing down festively lit streets. Your walk should take you to a large square filled with activities, a merry-go-round, and a giant tree.
If it is a cold night you may wish to start out with a warm drink and a toast with friends. Everyone was asked to wear a mask except when enjoying the local food and drink. We could not walk around with our drinks and we stayed in the small square where some others were also trying to stay warm. A few light flurries could be seen, but nothing to coat the ground.
The market cleverly asked for a deposit for the small plastic cups. If you wanted to keep them as a souvenir, then you gave up your deposit. Otherwise, they took them back to be sanitized and kept separate from the others. No cups on the ground or even in garbage containers. Perhaps this was more about garbage control than pandemic control.
The street is lined with typical Alsatian buildings like those seen throughout the region. Some merchants were open on the first night of the Christmas markets in hopes of seeing local patrons as well as tourists. We made our way down a narrow pathway that was not so crowded. This led us to the main square.
The merchant stalls lined the outer area of the square. In the middle were the Christmas tree and a busy merry-go-round. In the distance, you will the chapel with the Belfry lit up in Christmas red. The tower changed colors during the evening. The Kappelturn à Obernai, as it is known, was built originally in the 13th century. Like many old churches in France, it is now the property of its town.
We found a nice crowd and a festive spirit for the opening night of the Marche de Noel.
Sources include: “Which Christmas markets are still going ahead?” Tamara Hardingham-Gill, CNN Travel, cnn.com November 30, 2021.