At this time of year I find it about as hard to maintain a zen and adult-like exterior as a three-year-old on a bouncy castle. That childhood inclination towards anything covered in snow and shaped like a candy cane has stubbornly (and a bit embarrassingly) stayed with me into my thirties, whereas it should have melted away like a spring snowflake in my teens. I kid you not, one of the main reasons I live where I live is the iron garland of holly on each front door of my building.
Mince pies, Slade hits, chocolate coins; I like surrounding myself with them like a warm, kitschy blanket. There’s hardly a seasonal film I haven’t seen (except the ones made for TV – I’m a die-hard enthusiast, not a simpleton). When it comes to an obsession with Christmas trees, I’m on a par with Kevin from Home Alone (and if you haven’t basked in the Culkin magic by now, you’d better rectify the situation immediately if we are to remain friends).
Thankfully Paris knows how much I love things that twinkle in the frosty dark, and has generously dug deep into its garage (behind the giant lawnmower) to put on a magnificent festive light show that would make the elves proud. For all of those bah humbugs amongst you, I defy you to wander through the streets without catching at least a sniff of the warming spirit.
We’re not talking blow-the-national-grid American style here, but there’s sparkling pockets of Christmas cheer dotted around the city should you wish to find them. Putting the city’s power points under the most strain are the big daddies of the shopping scene, department stores Printemps and Galleries Lafayette on Boulevard Hausmann, that have enough lights between them to melt half the neighbourhood.
It’s the latter that has the edge with its child-magnet window displays and inside a giant upside down Christmas tree under its famous dome. It also provides a death-blow for the religious aspect of the festival and a victory for commercialism with its Sesame Street-esque ‘monster Noël’ theme (no, I don’t really get it either, but it sure is pretty). BHV completes the multi-floored consumer paradise, but keeps it simpler with pixellated santas evoking Nintendo Christmases gone by, and piped music flooding the pavement outside.
If you have the willpower to fight against the grand plan by the big stores to lure you in and spend all of your money on wildly overpriced gifts for your nears and dears, a trip to the German Christmas market along the bottom end of the Champs-Élysées is worth a look, if only for festive spirit turned up to the max and a warming cup of Glühwein. You can catch a glimpse of the lights lining Paris’ most famous street while you’re choosing what to buy me.
Paris might be thin on the ground on majestic municipal spruces, but there’s a glowing behemoth slap-bang in front of Notre Dame to gawk at. If you look hard enough, the blue lights hint at the icy politics behind it; not having enough money to pay the 75,000 euros to install it, the city went cap-in-hand to the embassies of Paris asking for sponsorship, and the Russians were the first to volunteer and stumped up the cash. Stings a bit like a pine needle, no?
For those who can’t stomach the cold, there’s a glowing electronic version in Place Carré in Forum Les Halles, plus plenty to look at on your route home as many of the city’s streets suspend glowing bulbs up high to guide you through the chilly evenings. You’ll be spared the carol singers though, this is Paris after all, and not Dickensian London. The French would much rather be supping on a vin chaud somewhere than belting out Mary’s Boy Child.
So there you have it. You might not have an inner child awaiting the December’s climax as eagerly as mine, but you owe it to the city’s electricity bill to go and soak in the festive rays. If anything it sure beats standing next to those guys who
burn sell chestnuts out of shopping trolleys as a way to keep warm…