When I was growing up, the school year always started at the beginning of September and the first holiday we had to look forward to was Halloween. That was followed a month later by Thanksgiving and only after that huge feast was a memory did we start to look forward to Christmas. Somehow, over the years, all of those months got compressed into “Hallo-anks-mas” where store shelves that had been stocked through the summer with back to school supplies were suddenly filled with a combination of candy corn, pumpkin pies, and candy canes. It’s a little bit different here in France.
Despite the efforts of the grocery stores here, I don’t think that Halloween has really caught on. Our closest store had a small display of snack size bagged candy bars with cotton spider webs covering the shelves to add realism, and we did see two little girls dressed as witches on their way to school, but otherwise October 31 seemed to be just an ordinary day. About a month later, around November 24 we didn’t really expect to see much about Thanksgiving but it was again the supermarkets who made mention of the holiday, featuring turkeys in their ads. In a sense, we were holding our breaths because up to then we had only seen a hint of what was to come on December 25.
The city of Carcassonne goes all out to celebrate Christmas. Every public square in town is covered in lights; garlands of sparking lights hang from lampposts, between buildings, and across major streets; concerts, presentations, lectures, displays, and a variety of other events fill the calendar through the 31st; city-provided Christmas trees adorn all the businesses in town who are also encouraged to decorate their shop windows to add to the magic and maybe even win a prize. When did all of this start? On December 3 when the mayor flipped the switch that turned the entire city into a glistening showcase.
We missed that official start to the season because we wanted to secure a prime spot to watch the Marche aux Flambeaux, that we might call a torchlight march, to raise money for neuromuscular disease research. Our estimate was that about 1000 people, many in medieval garb and most with a flaming torch in hand, walked down from the fortress above to the main square in the center of town below where the Christmas Market had just opened for the season. Considering that it was a very chilly night, all of those generous walkers might also have been motivated by the warm mulled wine, vin chaud, that was included in their donation and awaited them on the square.
The city’s website lists dozens of activities around town between now and the end of the month. I can’t wait to get some photos of some of those plus all the lights to put here on the blog. Here’s a link to the city’s 2-minute video preview of some of the decorations: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjKPcm5i4gc