top cx logo
cx logo
Explorearrow down
search icon
arrow down

Did you know? Strasbourg was France’s first Christmas market

Strasbourg has been known as 'The Christmas Capital' for nearly thirty years and for many years after its debut in the early 16th century, it was the only one of its kind 

In 1992 the Strasbourg council invested time, money and energy into the market and declared the town 'The Christmas Capital' Pic: Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock

The famous Strasbourg Christmas Market, which attracts two million visitors a year, is the oldest in France, and for many years it was the only one.

In the 13th century there was a market selling toys to celebrate the feast day of Saint Nicolas, on December 6, which in that part of the country used to be the day when presents were handed out.

In the early 16th century, Strasbourg converted from the Catholic to the new Protestant faith. That led, says Sophie Balland, from the Strasbourg Tourist Office, to the creation of a new Christmas market in 1570:

“The protestant leaders did not want anything to do with Saints and decided to replace the old market with one called after the Christ child, in the Alsace dialect, Christkindelsmärik. It was without doubt the first Christmas market in France.”

Over the centuries it changed locations. It began in the cathedral square, then moved to Place Kléber and later to Place Broglie. Now it is much larger with 300 chalets and spread over different parts of the city.

It has always sold items associated with the local Christmas traditions, many of which began in Alsace and then spread through Europe:

“The first record of Christmas trees is in the town register at Sélestat, dated 1521, 600 years ago”, says Sophie Balland.

Forest wardens were paid four Schillings by the council to guard the forest and fine anyone who cut down fir trees. In 1600, the town hall’s master of ceremonies wrote down the local traditions with one passage thought to give the first description of a decorated Christmas tree in Alsace.

“Glass balls to hang on trees were first produced in Meisenthal in Alsace,” continues Sophie Balland. “Usually red apples were hung from the branches, but one year there were none, so glassmakers replaced them with balls they made themselves.”

The market flourished until the 1970s and 1980s when new supermarkets proved more attractive places to buy presents. In 1992 the Strasbourg council made a positive decision to invest time, money and energy into the market and declared the town The Christmas Capital.

“It worked,” says Sophie Balland, “The idea was to reflect both the commercial and humane strengths of the city. The emphasis is on making it a warm, friendly occasion, lighting up the dark days and steeped in Christmas traditions.”

The market has gone through tough times recently, with a terrorist attack killing five in 2018 and cancellations in 2020 due to Covid. On average it attracts two million visitors a year. 

Related stories

Strasbourg market risks closure after health rules ‘not respected’

Covid: What will Christmas in France be like? This is what experts say

Bordeaux to have glass and steel Christmas tree instead of ‘dead tree’

Resident or second-home owner in France?
Benefit from our daily digest of headlines and how-to's to help you make the most of life in France
By joining the newsletter, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy
See more popular articles
The Connexion Help Guides
featured helpguide
Income Tax in France 2023 (for 2022 income)*
Featured Help Guide
- Primarily aimed at Britons, covers pensions, rent, ISAs, shares, savings and interest - but also contains significant general information pertinent to readers of other nationalities - Overview of online declarations + step-by-step guide to the French printed forms - Includes updates given automatically after this year's site opened
Get news, views and information from France