Wandering around a Christmas market with a vin chaud in one hand and a crêpe Nutella in the other is a seasonal highlight for many in France. But with increasingly strict health rules on crowds in many French towns and cities, can any of these popular events go ahead?
Some of the bigger markets have already been cancelled. Authorities in Lille, Lyon, Bordeaux, Arras and Clermont-Ferrand have already announced the cancellation of their markets.
Meanwhile in Paris the large market and funfair that usually takes place in the Tuileries will not go ahead. Organisers said the market, which usually runs from November to January was cancelled because of the health crisis, but added: “come back in 2021 for an even better event”.
Currently on maximum alert level because of its spiralling number of cases, Paris has a strict 1,000-person limit on all types of gathering which make any kind of large event virtually impossible, although normal weekly markets are continuing.
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But if you really want to go all-out for Christmas in France, you need to travel to the Alsace-Lorraine area in the east of the country, where historic German influences are felt in the area's famous Christmas markets.
The largest of these is in Strasbourg, which usually attracts around 2 million visitors and is a major event in the calendar of the city – which declares itself 'the Christmas capital of France'.
The health crisis is the latest in a series of blows for the organisers – in 2018 the market was the subject of a terror attack in which five people died and several more were injured. The market returned in 2019 but saw a lower turnout.
Authorities in the area have been desperate to stage some sort of market, and in a press conference on October 22nd, mayor Jeanne Barseghian announced that there would be no chalets, but the city would still try and stage some kind of event. The giant Christmas tree in Place Kléber will be erected as normal and local authorities have given themselves two weeks to come up with a revised plan for a scaled down event.
The market will not begin until November 28th.
Speaking of her decision to cancel the chalets, Barseghian said: “I took this decision both out of respect for the health of Strasbourg residents and visitors, as well as acknowledging the impossibility of the stallholders to cover their costs if the event goes ahead without visitors or if it is cancelled at the last minute.”
In nearby Colmar and Mulhouse, which also usually stage large events, the markets are at present still going ahead but markets in Marckolsheim, Bouxwiller, Neuf-Brisach, Grusenheim and Soufflenheim.
Most small French towns have their own Christmas market, which don't attract crowds like those of the big markets in cities like Strasbourg.
In areas on a lower risk level with maximum gathering limits of 5,000 people, some of these smaller markets could go ahead, albeit with a lot of extra hygiene measures such as one-way systems, compulsory masks and lots of hand sanitiser stations.
In areas not on the highest risk level, this would be a decision for the préfecture (top local authority).