There’s a familiar rhythm to the ramp-up to all holidays in Paris. For example, well before Valentine’s Day more lavish than usual displays of chocolates and macarons start appearing in store windows. As Bastille Day approaches in July, a profusion of tricolor flags emerge from storage and are unfurled. In November, Christmas markets start popping up in various neighborhoods making Paris more than ever the City of Light. A centerpiece of the city’s marchés de Noël celebration has been along the Champs-Élysées. It is the largest and most centrally located. This year, however, in an unusual break from the city’s typical holiday rhythms and routines, the Christmas market along the Champs-Élysées has been cancelled.
Marchés de Noël began in German-speaking parts of Europe such as Alsace in the 1400s. Over 600 years later, the fanfare continues. During Advent (the four weeks leading up to Christmas Eve) and in some cases spilling into the first days of the new year, specialty vendors arrange elaborate displays of food delicacies and crafts in decorative market stalls.
The longest and darkest nights of winter are brightened by thousands of twinkling lights. Revelers dispatch the cold by warming up with steaming cups of vin chaud (hot mulled wine), chocolat chaud, roasted chestnuts, gooey tartiflette, and fresh gaufres, waffles that are sometimes covered in chocolate.
Christmas markets are popular among locals of all ages and, increasingly, tourists. These markets offer a chance to buy special treats for the holiday meal such as truffles, foie gras, and dessert sweets and—even more importantly—to enjoy a stroll with family and friends in a magical setting. They’re different from the regular weekly markets in Paris, although many of those are stocked with seasonal specialty items too.
The Marché de Noël along the Champs-Élysées has been a holiday fixture since 2000, attracting about 15 million visitors annually. Wooden chalet-style huts line the sidewalks. Nightly appearances of Père Noël in his sleigh delighted millions of visitors. (For a past account, read Debra Dout’s guest post.)
So why has the popular Champs-Élysées market been cancelled in 2017? It stems from a feud between Paris City Hall and the man who has been managing this event, Marcel Campion. Reports are that Campion’s shady business practices convinced Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo not to renew his contract for the market. Complaints have circled about the type and quality of goods reflecting poorly upon the neighborhood. One city official explained it this way: “A cornet of churros for €15 is not the most beautiful showcase of Parisian gastronomy.” Many local residents are not disappointed that this holiday market is getting a shake-up.
Depending on your perspective, another casualty of the spat between Campion and City Hall is that the large Ferris wheel at the Place de la Concorde, which locals refer to as the Roue de Paris, might get scrapped or moved. Installed for the 2000 millennium celebration, it has been a fixture during winters in Paris and on many an Instagram feed ever since. But some say that its placement at this historic site is out of place. Heads rolled here, folks! Turns out that Campion’s company owns the Ferris wheel too.
My guess is that this will all get sorted out for next year. The large Christmas market along Les Champs is unlikely to close permanently because of business and political squabbles. Meanwhile, Christmas lights are being strung along the Champs and will light up again, starting the evening of November 22, along with illuminations elsewhere in Paris.
The vin chaud and warmth of the holiday season will be flowing in many other Paris neighborhoods. The market along the Champs-Elysees has never been the only one in town. There are numerous other Christmas markets to explore and enjoy in Paris, such as the large one at La Défense. Check this list of Paris Christmas Markets. You might need to strike out a little farther than expected, indeed an excellent opportunity to veer off the beaten path.
For a list of other Christmas markets in France, click here.