On December 11, 2018, a terrorist attack was produced at the Christmas Market in Strasbourg, Alsace, France. The citizens of Strasbourg are shocked, authorities are mad and the Christmas Market was cancelled for a day. Flags are down, and December 12 is declared mourning day. The Bunget Arts & Culture adore this Christmas Market tradition in Strasbourg, and we would like to tell you the beautiful story of this event.
The Christkindelsmärik, or “baby Jesus market”, is the name given in Alsatian dialect to the traditional Christmas market that has been held since 1570 in Strasbourg, Alsace, and has long been the only one in France. It begins on the first Saturday of Advent and ends on the evening of December 24th. Christkindelsmärik attracts two million visitors each year from around the world.
The Christkindelsmärik of Strasbourg is one of the oldest Christmas markets, which was a specificity of the Germanic world. The most famous was that of Nuremberg, but those of Frankfurt, Dresden and Berlin were also very famous. In the Middle Ages, a market was organized in Strasbourg in anticipation of the feast of St. Nicholas on December 6th. It was indeed to this saint, bishop of Myre in Turkey in the fourth century, that the role of dispenser of gifts was attributed to children. To allow parents to buy treats and toys, a market, called in Alsatian “Klausemärik”, was then installed a few days before that date.
The Protestant Reformation was adopted by the city of Strasbourg in 1525 and, in 1570, in the cathedral then assigned to Protestant worship, the pastor Johannes Flinner rose in the pulpit against the use of giving gifts to children on the day of the Saint Nicholas. This practice, considered “papist”, gave a saint the role of a donor. Pastor Flinner advocated symbolically entrusting this mission to Christ in the form of the baby Jesus. Impressed by this sermon, the Council of the XXI of Strasbourg decided on December 4, 1570 to suppress the Saint Nicholas, but to allow the traders to hold their market three days before this date.
The market of the Saint-Nicolas was thus replaced by that of the child Jesus, named “Christkindel” in Alsatian dialect, and the delivery of the gifts has, also, changed date to make the eve of Christmas. It is therefore the Protestant influence that launched this new use of Strasbourg market before Christmas. She also created this character Christkindel, who replaced the holy bishop Nicolas to enter homes and bring their gifts to children.
After the annexation of Alsace to the German Empire in 1871, the market settled in place Broglie, but was removed during the four years of the First World War. Today, Christkindelsmärik is still on the large square Broglie (former horse market), considered as its historical site, to which were added other places of the city.
Place Broglie. 1910
Place Broglie. 1910
The composition of Christkindelsmärik has varied over time. In the 1900s, the eastern part of the Place Broglie, from the Municipal Theater to the current rue de la Comédie, was already reserved for fir merchants, while the west, until the current rue du Dôme , received the stalls of other businesses, offering confectionery, toys and decorations for the Christmas tree. The Christmas decorations consisted of shatterproof glass balls made in Goetzenbruck and Meisenthal, villages of the Northern Vosges located in Moselle, but we liked the very varied subjects: locomotive or miniature animals in stamped cardboard, characters sometimes very elaborate, wire of iron trimmed with cotton or paper, supplemented with small chromos and miniature accessories.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the German stores of Ortenau strongly competed with Christkindelsmärik because they are well stocked, and the prices are often more interesting than those of the market of Strasbourg. More and more, decorative items for Christmas, and even fir trees, are sold in supermarkets around Strasbourg and prices at Christkindelsmärik seem too high. It’s a bit of a slump for the Christmas market.
In 1987 appeared in Kaysersberg (Haut-Rhin), another Christmas market, realized by an association which wishes to give this festival a cultural and spiritual dimension, with the municipality of the village. The market is held on Saturdays and Sundays of Advent until the evening of December 22, the association organizes conferences and concerts. The success of the Kaysersberg Christmas market (200,000 visitors per year) encourages the Regional Tourism Committee to launch a promotional campaign entitled “Christmas has a country, Alsace”.
Driven by this momentum, the city of Strasbourg proclaimed itself in 1992 “Capital of Christmas” (« Capitale de Noël ») and launched a major campaign to promote the event, centered on the attractiveness of the Christmas market. This one is enlarged on the place Broglie itself and other cabins are installed on the place of the Cathedral, place of Austerlitz, until eleven places in the city.
Three hundred traders and craftsmen, installed in wooden chalets of the same model imposed by the municipality contribute to the reputation of the market and take advantage of its economic benefits. A new role is attributed to Christkindelsmärik is to be both the major attraction and the pretext for a tourist event that is growing every year.
The opening ceremony becomes an increasingly important event, and a well-known and popular personality gives, along with the mayor of the city, the signal of the illumination of the big tree and all the places devoted to the manifestation of Christmas.
Each year, another country is invited and has the place Gutenberg to build cottages and sell its products, while at the foot of the big tree are a dozen cottages that host local charities, together called “The village of Sharing ».
Today, besides Kaysersberg and the biggest cities of the region, almost every town in Alsace has its Christmas market, which is the occasion of a mobilization of the inhabitants and a local animation.
The proliferation of Christmas markets does not seem to be detrimental to the success of Christkindelsmärik, which is the delight of its two million visitors, its three hundred merchants, the hotels of the city and the surrounding area and the city of Strasbourg. A municipal commission ensures that the products offered remain in line with Alsatian Christmas traditions. Thus, in 2010 were banned jewelery and stuffed animals as well as churros and paninis, advantageously replaced by sauerkraut of Alsace and flambé pie. This commission manages with vigilance the Christkindelmärik, become “the chicken with the golden eggs”.
Markets inspired by that of Strasbourg are implanted in other regions of France and the event has been exported under its label in Tokyo and Moscow. A partnership is under way for the organization of a Christmas market on the Strasbourg model in New York, and the Madison Square Garden Christmas tree was decorated in 2014 by Antoinette Pflimlin, who was the decorator of the Place Kléber. for twenty years. These decentralizations of the Christmas market aim to attract every year more foreign tourists to Strasbourg.
Text and photography by Cătălin CREȚU