Legend and fantasy brighten Christmas

A study shows that people are watching the pennies carefully this Christmas, but even so there will be plenty to enjoy

1 December 2010

For the third consecutive year, people in France have decided to spend less this Christmas compared to the previous one.

According to international financial experts Deloitte, who have made a study of Christmas spending plans, most people still think we are in recession, with only 11 per cent expecting recovery in 2011.
We therefore expect to spend nearly five per cent less on presents and 6.9 per cent less on entertainment, but are aiming to cut back less on food: 2.2 per cent less compared to last year.

None the less the typical French resident’s Christmas budget this year, €605, is above the European average of e590.

Ninety-eight per cent of people plan to buy “useful” presents, a trend noted since the start of the financial crisis in 2008.

They also plan to buy fewer, cheaper presents. More than half of those questioned said they would buy stores’ own-brand products.

For the first time, gift tokens are what most adults say they would most like to receive; however chocolates and cosmetics are the items most people actually plan to buy.

Among 18- to 24-year-olds, a quarter are hoping for smartphones. Forty per cent more people plan to use the internet for shopping than last year, to avoid crowds in the shops.

France's biggest festive market exported to Japan

STRASBOURG'S Christmas market is the biggest and most famous in France, and now it is being held in Tokyo as well.

After a successful trial last year, the capital of the Alsace region is again teaming up with the Japanese capital to create a version of its marché de Noël. Last year’s attracted 620,000 visitors in 15 days.

“There were queues 40m long to try something that was new for them: our tarte flambée [a kind of pizza with bacon, crème fraîche and onions],” said assistant mayor Jean-Jacques Gsell.

Once again, the Japanese will be invited to try such exotic products as Christmas beers, white Alsacian wine and pâtisseries, and to buy traditional Kelchset tea towels, blown-glass tree baubles and hand-painted wooden decorations. There will also be a 6m Christmas tree, exported from Alsace, carol concerts and a restaurant section with dishes such as choucroute and charcuterie.

The ultimate aim, said mayor Roland Ries, is “to make the Japanese want to come to see the authentic market: the Strasbourg one”.

This year’s Strasbourg market, which runs throughout December, will be the 441st. It was started by Alsacian Protestants, who called it the “Infant Jesus’s Market”, replacing an earlier Catholic one, dedicated to Saint-Nicholas (Christmas markets have been held in Germany and Alsace since the 14th century).

A tourist office spokeswoman said: “The atmosphere is unique, especially at nightfall, when there is a magical feeling, as if the town was making up for the darkness and the cold. The buildings look their most beautiful, shop windows glitter and smells of spices bring back childhood memories.”

There are hundreds of stalls, with traditional crafts to decorate your tree or crib and specialities such as mulled wine and bredles (little Christmas cakes made from spices, dried fruits, butter, honey and nuts) or pain d’épices (gingerbread). There is a giant Christmas tree and an ice rink, concerts are held in the cathedral and churches and there are traditional folk entertainments.

The east of France is especially known for its Christmas markets, including Colmar, Mulhouse and Riquewihr, while in Lorraine the most colourful, with attractive scenery and locals in traditional dress, is at Plombières-les-Bains. Metz’s is the second biggest in France in visitor numbers.

You can also find Christmas markets throughout France, with some of the best including the following:

- The biggest in the Ile-de-France is the one held at La Défense, throughout December. About 200 stalls offer a choice of regional
specialities and crafts. One held on the Champs-Elysées is among the others in the area.

- Marseille’s Foire aux Santons, in the Old Port, is more than 200 years old. It is noted for hand-made provençal crib figures, santons, but has other Christmas stalls as well.

- Bordeaux’s market, in the Allées de Tourny, is one of the biggest in the south-west, with around 100 wooden cabins offering specialities like Bordeaux wines and foie gras.

- The Haras National (national stud farm) at Lamballe, Brittany, is holding Les Ecuries du Père Noël (Farther Christmas’s Stables) over the weekend of December 10-12. Stalls will be set up in the stables and there will be children’s craft workshops. Horses, ponies and asses from the farm will take the place of reindeer for rides on Santa’s sleigh.

Horse show inspired by mythology

MYTHS and legends are being brought to life in a spectacular Christmas show at the Musée Vivant du Cheval in Chantilly, one of the world’s top horse attractions.

The show Chevaux du Vent will include a mixture of stunt riding and elegant dressage, with horses and riders dressed up as storybook characters.

Show director Virginie Bien aimé said: “We will presenting a fantasy epic, where the audience will discover the heavenly flights of Pegasus, the wild charges of [Alexander the Great’s horse] Bucephalus,
stampedes of centaurs across the plains of Thessaly and the adventures of the Valkyries, those [Norse] goddesses who gallop faster than the wind. Unicorns, winged horses and other legendary creatures will plunge the audience into a breath-taking journey under the Grand Stables’ renovated dome.”

The show includes costumes created by the museum’s costumier, Monika Mucha, light and sound effects, 30 horses and ponies, and both riders and acrobats.

The Musée Vivant du Cheval is in historic stables at Chantilly (Oise), famous for its racing. It features displays about the history of man’s relationship with the horse as well as riding demonstrations.
For more information see www. museevivantducheval.fr/en/ (note that the show is the one described under “Christmas, the horse and the child”).

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