Most English people who come Christmas shopping to France stop at the hypermarkets at Calais and Boulogne to buy alcohol. By not venturing further into France, they miss such a lot.
Christmas in England begins in September, the first Christmas advertisements appear on Independent Television and Christmas cards and decorations appear in the shops. In October, the shops begin playing Christmas music and councils put up the municipal decorations in the high streets. Father Christmas arrives in the Department stores at the beginning of November. Christmas shopping in England is all very frantic and hectic. There is another way to do all your Christmas shopping but at a gentler and more civilized pace.
Christmas shopping in France begins much later, the municipal Christmas decorations are lit on 1st December. The shops put out their Christmas displays on the same date. In the large towns, a Christmas market begins about a week before Christmas; this is a commercial affair with gift shops and local small factories striving to outdo one another in decorating their stalls but still worth visiting. In one town in South West France, the local Farmers usually have an animal display at the Christmas market, which all the children enjoy.
The villages have their Christmas markets in the three weeks before Christmas; these are one day, usually at the weekend, and much less formal affairs. The stallholders are mostly ordinary people with a craft hobby who make things all year to sell at Christmas time to make a little money towards Christmas shopping. The open stalls are decorated with greenery and painted pine cones rather than bought decorations; this more natural decoration makes them look even more charming.
It is possible to pick up beautiful hand-made gifts and decorations at an extremely reasonable price. It is also very interesting to see the wide range of crafts that people pursue. Pottery, carved wooden items and hand-made wooden toys and other articles, paintings, and drawings, tasty food gifts of preserves, cakes or biscuits, knitted or crocheted items there is such a variety. One can buy local produce too, prunes dried fruit and the spices and herbs that are necessary for Christmas cooking.
It is very much a social event; the whole village turns out to make The Christmas market a success and little groups of people greeting their neighbours and talking and laughing are standing everywhere. Santa Claus/Father Christmas or as the French know him, Le Pere Noel is there to take the requests of the village children. The Mayor of the village offers an aperitif to everyone at noon. As always in France, everything stops for lunch, which is served somewhere in the village, usually the sale de fetes (village hall), lunch is always at least four courses and wine, delicious and very reasonably priced.
The market starts up again about 2pm and continues until six pm when shoppers and stallholders wander home tired but happy with their day.
If gentler Christmas shopping appeals to you, cheap flights are available from the usual companies or trains via the Channel Tunnel or bring your car on the ferries. Do not stay at the Hypermarkets in the Channel Ports that is not France. Travel further into France and stay overnight or longer, hotels are much cheaper than the U.K. Come and enjoy Christmas shopping again, get some beautiful and unique gifts and see the “real” France.