Our Advent candle says there are 12 days until Christmas, so I thought I’d tell you something about Christmas trees, sapin de noël or arbre de noël, here in Paris.
France has a rich Christmas tree history, going back to the early 1500s in the Alsace region, casting it as a symbol of hope and eternal life. During the France-Prussian war of 1870-71, refugees fleeing the conflict brought the tradition from Alsace to Paris and the rest of France. By the 1930s, most French households were putting up a Christmas tree.
Local governments put up large, well-decorated trees in public spaces:
Cities also tend to hang decorations across major streets and on buildings. The local artists get into it, too, including one who erected this inflatable, abstract Christmas tree here some years ago, only to have it recognized by the public as a sex toy:
Ahem. Three real tree species are generally available here: Spruce, Nordmann, and Noble Fir, along with that weird modern favorite, Flocked. They’re sold at grocery and hardware stores, city squares, and other outlets, beginning in late November. Faux trees are, of course, also available. One interesting thing to note is that real trees are often sold with a “base” – the half-log, shown below. A hole is drilled into the log and the tree trunk is jammed into it.
Which means the French do not water their trees! I wonder what is left of them by the end of December? We bought an American-style base with a water reservoir online but then had some difficulty getting our local vendor to remove the log base from the tree we wanted to buy. Eventually everything worked out, though, and I was soon carrying our tree, cocooned in netting for the trip, back to our place.
Christmas tree decorations in France were originally natural and editable items, such as fruit, candies, cakes, nuts, and paper flowers. Now they’re similar to the decorations found in the U.S.: LED lights, glass ornaments, cloth and wooden figures, garlands, and an angel or star at the top. Tinsel, though, has not caught on here.
We have a small apartment, so we scaled our tree accordingly and Marti has a great collection of decorations. Here’s our tree, ready for presents to be placed beneath it:
This is the first tree either of us has put up in quite a few years, so it’s been a lot of fun reminiscing and getting into the Christmas spirit. It’s amazing how indelible our childhood Yuletide memories are.
If you’re putting up a tree, have fun and enjoy the process! We found a soundtrack of classic Christmas tunes and a “cup of cheer” smoothed the process.