This is my first Christmas in France and Grenoble is where I’m making my home for a few months. Grenoble is surrounded by the Alps so it's cold and beautiful with crisp air.
I wander out in the town exploring, enjoying and discover what the French Christmas Markets are all about.
My Christmas in France
at the Grenoble Christmas Market
Christmas markets in France are a long-standing tradition, and Grenoble continues the trend with more than one collection of white tents and wooden booths.
There's a carousel in the Place Grenette, along with a line of stands and decorated trees. Not limited to horses, the ride features bulls - complete with horns, pigs, and quite life-like rabbits. The rabbits are my favorites, and I was pleased to notice that they're usually occupied.
Maybe it was too early in the season, but riders were scarce that first weekend of the Christmas market. I walked by at several times when the lights were on and the music was playing, but there were very few occupied seats.
Since then, another stand has opened in front of the carousel offering mulled wine, hot coffee, and small chocolate-drizzled crêpes. There is usually a respectable crowd of people at the tall standing tables, and quite a few more children on the ride.
The Place Victor Hugo is the site of the main event, and it's quite a scene on a weekend afternoon. The crowd seems to be mainly families, parents and grandparents with children of all ages - toddlers being led by the hand, and a lot of strollers to dodge.
There was another layer of teenagers parked around the edges, but they seemed to circulate, too, eventually. So it was a highly mixed crowd, but friendly and relaxed, people were out to have a good time.
The center of the square features painted scenes with cutouts, where people were taking photographs posing as snowmen or elves or Santas. Call me slow, but I didn't immediately understand why there was a long line waiting outside another brightly lit hut.
Christmas in France
Markets Are Fun for the Whole Family
Père Noël (that's the French Santa Claus) was seated on a bench inside, with an assistant dressed like a mouse and a bucket of candy canes. His red suit, red hat, and white beard were familiar enough, but instead of being rotund, this Father Christmas looked distinctly thin. No bowlful of jelly here.
barbe à papa (cotton candy)
I watched a toddler being introduced to barbe à papa or cotton candy. The assistant was wearing gloves as she worked the machine, the afternoon was getting chilly, but she rapidly produced an enormous shaggy cone.
The woman held it out, but the little girl didn't move, she seemed more scared than pleased by the bright pink fluff. Her father took the cone and pulled her off a handful. She fingered it, but wouldn't take it, so her father showed her how it's done by swallowing it down.
His broad smile was followed by the offer of another piece, and this time the toddler followed suit by cramming the entire fistful into her mouth. The sudden sweetness produced a huge smile, she licked her fingers, laughed, and then tore off another clump.
After two more handfuls of pink fluff, the toddler was pointed in the direction of a large dog wearing a red and green sweater and a set of felt antlers. She ran to join the new crowd, and the cone was discretely deposited in a trash bag. It was fun to see cotton candy correctly used!
French Christmas Markets Offer
Many of the booths offered merchandise; the market is obviously a gift-oriented event. There were a lot of scarves and hats on offer - it's cold here - and one featured ski accessories - Grenoble is ringed by the Alps and ski lodges abound.
The two stands that featured locally made soap had good products and good prices. Everything was labeled biologique - organic - and a lot of the soap was made with milk. I'm used to cow's milk soap, and have seen goat's milk soap before, but savon au lait d'Ânesse, or donkey's milk soap, was new to me. I've since learned that donkey's milk has been used for cosmetic purposes since the ancient Egyptians - who knew?
Unfortunately, the candles were oddly colored and the fragrance made me want to sneeze.