I was originally going to title this post “what’s going on in France?”, because I’m sure that’s what many of my blog readers are wondering right now. It’s December and almost Christmas, but France is definitely not at rest and we’ve had many folks message us to ask us if we’re safe and whether it’s really as bad as it seems from the outside. So, what’s up?
Well, If you’ve been watching the news, you’ve probably heard about the “Gilets Jaune” (the yellow vests). The movement started as a protest against (yet another) tax on fuel, but has now expanded to cover grievances over quality of life in general, overall taxation (especially for the poorer population) & Macron in particular. In some of the bigger cities (e.g. Paris) things have even turned violent with tear gas and armored cars on the streets. It’s no small thing.
I’m not going to comment on the political side of the situation (I never do, in my blogs), but I can certainly confirm that these are deep-rooted issues that have been building for some time, and the protests are likely to go on for a while. But the violence that you see on the international news is not as wide-spread as it seems. So while there have been heavy protests in Toulouse (our nearest “big city”) the countryside where we live, has remained relatively calm.
We see “Gilets Jaune” at the local roundabouts, and we interact and talk to the locals about the situation (it’s an important subject for everyone), but apart from slowing down traffic and a few blockades here and there, there has been no real issues. So we’ve basically just been going about our daily business as usual, supporting our local Frenchman as we can, while avoiding the big roads and Toulouse on the week-ends. It’s not quiet, but it’s not as crazy at it seems from the outside, at least here in the boonies. So, thanks for all your messages, but we are fine
Christmas Markets Are Here!
Political news aside, this is actually a fabulous time to be in the French countryside.
The end of fall has left the trees bare and transformed the fields into hues of ochre and brown. The weather is crisp, clear and sunny and the Pyrénées are getting progressively whiter as winter snow starts to fall on their slopes. It’s beautifully stark.
Plus it’s the start of the Christmas Market season!
For those of you who’ve never heard of European Christmas Markets they’re a yearly thing with a deep tradition. The first markets were held in the German-speaking parts of Europe and the Eastern parts of France during the late Middle Ages. There are records of Christmas Markets in Munich in 1310, Bautzen in 1384 and Dresden in 1434. Vienna has a pretty deep tradition too, with a history of “December Markets” (a precursor to the traditional Christmas Market) dating back to 1298. And in France the oldest market can be traced back to Strasbourg where it started in 1570.
And all of these markets are still active today!
They are truly are spectacular events and they take over entire towns throughout the month of December. Christmas food, trinkets & more are offered in cozy settings with lots of pride and Christmas cheer. They’re not only visually stunning, but also a true delight to visit. If they’re not on your “bucket list”, they should be!
You Can Find Them Throughout France
The Christmas Markets in Southwestern France are not nearly as large or famous as their German or Eastern French counterparts, but they’ve become are a core tradition here too and are well worth attending. They typically start around the beginning of December and pretty much EVERY town offers one.
Bigger cities have large, well-established markets that run throughout the month. For example here in Toulouse, the yearly Christmas Market is held at the Place du Capitole, a large square in the very heart of the city. It opens at the end of November and runs daily through Dec 26th (from~10AM to ~8PM) and it consists of over 120 vendors in individual “chalets” selling everything from handmade items to clothing & food.
Most of the vendors are local artisans so it’s a great place to pick-up specialties from the region while at the same time supporting local farms & smaller businesses. Plus it’s just as magical during the day as it is at night (with lights). It’s a cool market to attend.
In smaller towns, the Marché de Noël is even an quainter and cozier affair.
Out in the countryside it’s usually just a 1 or 2 day thing, held in the local square or town hall and it’s something the whole town attends. There will be local artisans, folks offering hot cider, roasted chestnuts & homemade cakes, and stands selling items supporting local groups or charities. Folks are super friendly and inviting, and everything you buy goes to the local town in some way, which I really like. I find the local markets super cozy, and actually prefer them over the bigger ones.
How To Find French Christmas Markets? The easiest way is simply to Google “Marché de Noël” and the city or area you plan to visit. Most tourist offices and town halls (“Mairies”) will also have info on their websites. For example in Haute Garonne (our department) you can find all the active markets HERE.
Christmas Lights, Concerts & Masses
The other big thing in France in December are Christmas Lights & shows.
Every town will put up Christmas decorations, typically lights (hung up through town) and Christmas trees (both real and sculptures), but some towns go a step further and make the lights an event. For example, in Lyon there is a rather famous “Fête des Lumières” that happens every year from within the first 2 weeks of Dec, whereas in our region the biggest light show is the annual lantern festival in Gaillac that runs all the way into Feb.
There are lots of concerts and masses take place in December too. A Concert de Noël is typically held in every major town, and traditional masses will take place at the local churches both for Christmas Eve and to introduce the New Year. We’ve attended mass at our town church and it’s always a moving affair.
How To Find French Concerts & Masses? For concerts in bigger towns, Google is your friend. Simple search “Concert de Noël” and the city you plan to be. For concerts & masses in smaller towns, the local Church will usually have a list of their upcoming events posted somewhere by the church.
What Are WE Doing For Christmas?
Well, we had GRAND PLANS, oh yes we did, but alas it was not meant to be. Originally we were going to take the new RV to the UK, all 3 of us and the pets. But the permanent license plates for our rig have not yet arrived, so we cannot take it out of France. It’s a classic French delay and just one of those things you’ve got to roll with. So, we’ve decided to hold Christmas in France and delay our RV travel plans until the new year. Somewhere in the big scheme of things, I’m sure it was meant to be so we’ll just soak it all in here, and see what the New Year brings.
In the meantime I’m sure I’ll have a few Christmas goodies to share with you, so hang tight for those. And for the rest of the wait, I’ll leave you with one of our fabulous winter sunsets. This could rival a SW desert sunset, don’t you think?