I think that it is pretty well known among my friends that I am not a person that gets real fired up for Christmas. I mean, I like to get together with family and friend and drink a glass to “Peace on Earth and Goodwill Toward Men” as much as the next guy. But the Holidays are a very, very busy time in the restaurant business; I am afraid that this colors my view. And I am not really a person that enjoys shopping very much in the first place (except for food).
However, it is possible that if there was a Marché de Noël in Seattle like the one I recently visited in Bordeaux, I would be a bit warmer toward the season. The Marché is primarily, as the name implies, a market, selling everything a French family would consider necessary for Christmas. But to my foreign eyes, it all seemed quirky and original.
For example, the stand selling Sapins de Noël or Christmas trees, was co-located with a petting zoo with real deer, reindeer and other farm animals. The market features a number of booths selling Santons, hand painted figures for Nativity scenes. Far from being traditional figures from the manger story, Santons are dressed traditional Provencal costumes and represent characters from every walk of life, to farm workers to chefs to the cop on the beat. Even Santa Claus makes an appearance.
Best of all, from my point of view, the Marche de Noël is very food-centric, no surprise in France. Stands representing regional specialties (Basque sausages and seafood stews; Alsatian sauerkraut; Aligot from Auvergne) share space with venders roasting chestnuts and stool-lined counters selling hot mulled wine and cider. Other stands offer crepes, chipolata sandwiches, waffles, wine and champagne tasting, foie gras baguettes and canelés, the crown shaped caramelized cakes that are one of the best known specialties of Bordeaux. The entire Marché is ringed by beer and wine gardens that fill up with people escaping from work early, just as twilight falls over the city and the Holiday lights are lit.
The Marché is located in the heart of Old Bordeaux, just off the Place de la Comédie, flanked on one side by the belle époque Grand Hotel de Bordeaux and on the other by the Opéra National de Bordeaux. Bordeaux’s shiny new Tram glides through the scene every few minutes, and there is even a double high carousel to mark the season. It is really an enchanting scene.
OK that sounds a bit sappy.