Christmas Market-ing is not an Obsession

My first winter in Paris, I made it my mission to visit as many of the Christmas markets in the city as possible. They ranged from the most frequented one on the Champs-Elysées to the tiny bundle of stands in front of the Bercy 2 mall. I went to most of them, and the funny thing is that they all have similar products—delicate cut-out Christmas cards, big chocolate-covered marshmallows sold by the piece, painted ornaments, scarves fluffy and fine, mulled wine, churros. Each one has its own atmosphere, however, which is why I enjoyed walking through all of them. In my travels with friends, I also saw the marchés de Noël in Strasbourg, Lille, Marseille, and Nice.

What I almost forgot is that my love of Christmas markets was born in New York. During my first year of work after college, in December I walked through the Christmas market near my office almost every day during lunch break. Even on the very cold days, I ducked out for a few minutes for a quick walk past the stands selling jewelry, spices, puppets, and chocolate.

The markets in Manhattan were and still are located at Bryant Park, Grand Central Station, Union Square, and Columbus Circle. All are outdoors except Grand Central’s. This year I noticed a small line of stands forming a new (to me) holiday market in Times Square (there’s room for a market on the crowded sidewalks of Times Square, you ask? Yes, I was amazed too. This city can squeeze in skyscrapers in small spaces).

It wasn’t until spending a few years in France and then coming back to the States that I realized that New York actually has “holiday” markets, not “Christmas” markets. This is not to say that they’re less Christmassy than France’s marchés de Noël, they’re just more politically correct. Their signs call them holiday markets and holiday fairs. Which is funny, because all the pine and red and white stripes clearly point to a specific holiday.

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Happy Holidays!

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6 thoughts on “Christmas Market-ing is not an Obsession

  1. I am going to sound naive but I really thought it was a European tradition!

    I think talking about “holidays” in general rather than just Christmas makes sense in North America. After all, there is a large Jewish population in NY for instance, they celebrate Hanuka. It’s not so much about being PC, it’s just marketing common sense.

    • It is true that you can buy gifts for Hanukkah (or Kwanzaa, for that matter) at the holiday market. What you’re saying does make me want to go back and look at North American department store flyers and TV ads to see if they advertise “holiday sales” or “Christmas sales” more.

      I remember being with a group of five French people in Paris and mentioning that it was Hanukkah and being surprised that no one knew what it was (and one girl was Jewish). It may have been partly coincidence and partly that it is more widely celebrated among Jewish Americans, plus that as you said the Jewish population is larger where I come from. That means that most non-Jewish people in my area have at least a broad familiarity with Hanukkah. I have for a long time known it as the “Festival of Lights,” for example, even before I knew what that meant.

  2. Christmas in New York must be magical. I have all the images from movies with the steam coming up out of the pavements, ice skating at the Rockefeller Center etc. Being from somewhere small and with a whole different Christmas experience, my mental images of “real” Christmas are very much shaped by movies and TV!

    • Unfortunately I have not seen movies featuring Christmas where you’re from, though I would like to!

      So scenes like ice skating at Rockefeller are indeed very lovely, once you have cleansed your mind of the fact that you just fought through crowds of people to get there. I have ice skated at Rockefeller and Bryant Park, and while it was fun, if you go when there are too many people, you just can’t skate that fast.

      I’d say the best time to visit any tourist destination known for its Christmas season is late November to early December, when it is calmer and you can move about more freely. It was pretty great looking at the New York Christmas windows in November.

      But yes, there are magical moments during Christmas in New York. 🙂

      Also, I’m going to have to appreciate these steamy pavements a little more.

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