Tarte flambée, hot mulled wine, chalets selling soft fabric ornaments, oven mitts, and Bredele cookies… the Strasbourg Christmas market has arrived.
A piece of the world famous Marché de Noël de Strasbourg is residing in New York from December 6 to 22. With support from the cities of Strasbourg, Colmar and Mulhouse, thirty chalets and their accompanying wares were imported from the small region of France that borders Germany and installed in Bowling Green Park. The area’s gastronomie, wine, culture and heritage are highlighted through artisan creations, sweet treats, regional food specialties and wine, all for sale seven days a week, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
After the North Pole, Alsace is the region of the world most closely associated with Christmas. Since 1570, Strasbourg has hosted an annual monthlong holiday market whose unrivaled size and holiday enthusiasm has earned the city international recognition. Four million people come to Alsace every year just for the Christmas season, to enjoy the 100 holiday markets in the region and partake in a few of the 7,000 events that happen on Christmas day alone.
On opening night, the New York market certainly feels like Christmas. A tree, decorated with hearts made from the annual holiday fabric from Mulhouse, stands in front of a glowing sign announcing the Marché de Noël de Strasbourg, L’Alsace à New York. Under the twinkle of crisscrossing lights, Saint Nicholas (who resembles a bishop, dressed in robes and a mitre) wanders through the crowd, taking pictures with children and excited visitors. In an area separated by a fence, mulled wine and craft beers from Alsace are poured into souvenir cups. The line for tarte flambée, made to order in a big pizza oven, is constantly about five people long, and visitors eye the Monsieur “Frenchi” hot chestnut train engine with curiosity while its owner encourages people to come try his marrons chauds.
L’Alsace à New York is primarily an advertising opportunity for the French region. The Eastern France Tourism Agency, “has chosen to highlight the magical spirit of Christmas,” explained Marie-Reine Fischer, President of the agency, in a press conference, “to raise the profile of Alsace in the world.” Americans already have already indicated an interest in Alsace; overnight stays by people from the United States increased 14.5 percent in 2018, according to the most recent report by the Observatoire du Tourisme d’Alsace (ORTA). It’s logical that the Grand Est region would want to make an effort to continue the growth.
Passing by the chalets promoting travel to Strasbourg, Colmar and Mulhouse, the message becomes explicit: if you enjoy Alsace here, you will enjoy Alsace in France, so please take a travel brochure. “Through this first offering, we want to make Americans want to discover all the charms of Alsace,” explained Fischer. And the event is fairly effective in its marketing abilities — in all likelihood you will want to visit Alsace. The Marché is big enough to be exciting and small enough that it leaves you wanting more. More chalets, more handmade crafts, more regional specialties, more decorations, and more Christmas spirit.
But, as the event’s organizers emphasized, Alsace is worth visiting any time of year. “I would encourage all Americans who love to travel to France to also discover this region,” noted Ambassador of France Philippe Étienne in his remarks to the press.
Advertising campaign aside, the market is fun to visit. Anyone looking for holiday goodies is certain to find a few quality offerings among the chalets. “Handicraft is essential to our lives in Alsace,” explained Fatiha Kritter-Rachedi, Communications Director of the Eastern France Tourism Agency. “It’s in the DNA of our destination.” Indeed, at the Marché, you’ll pass Siegfried-Burger pottery, which has been a family business for six generations, the “Elves” chalet featuring tiny wooden elves handmade by one woman, and soft fabric heart ornaments, all made by Christiane Koch.
Among the Made-in-Alsace food offerings are Bredele cookies, which Alsatians give to friends throughout the month of December, flown in daily from Alsace to ensure freshness, and Marketa Macudova’s gingerbreads, which are the most beautifully decorated gingerbread cookies you’ll ever see in your life. Besides the tarte flambée, made on site in a chalet, Le District, the French food hall in Brookfield Place, provides the rest of the regional specialties like choucroute and sauerkraut, bretzel and mustard, onion soup, liverwurst on baguette, and quiche lorraine.
The one thing the New York market can boast over the Alsace market: Gabriel Kreuther. The Alsatian Michelin-starred chef is in Chalet 9.