Christmas traditions in Alsace

19 December 2016< Retour à la liste
Traditional Alsatian Christmas biscuits


Since the Middle Ages, choristers and actors have sung and performed texts paraphrasing the events of the Nativity at Christmas Mass. The Council of Trent, which was convened to fight against the Reformation, authorised this phenomenon and encouraged the dissemination of images in the form of engravings, paintings and sculptures. These were powerful methods of evangelisation. Short sketches were performed on the forecourts of churches and in the streets, but confusions between the sacred and the profane led to their prohibition in 1548. The tradition of nativity scenes took over and has continued to inspire artists and artisans alike. Although current debates on secularism and religious neutrality have marked the end of some of these traditions, others remain firmly established.
In Alsace, Christmas begins with Advent. This season commences on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and enables Christians to prepare for the coming of Christ. The famous Strasbourg Christmas Market is a true showcase of the craftsmanship of the region and begins at the same time as Advent. People bring out advent calendars embroidered with Rouge du Rhin yarn and tablecloths made of Quelsch fabric; they hang straw stars and embroidered linen hearts and decorate windows with traditional papercuts. The Advent wreath is made from fir branches and folded paper stars and its candles are lit successively on each Sunday of Advent. But wait! According to Alsatian tradition, the tree is not decorated until the 24th of December!

Festive atmosphere

In Alsace, December is the brightest and most welcoming month of the year. People come together to drink mulled wine in streets lit up with festive lights. You may even encounter Father Christmas, as envisaged by Coca Cola in the 1950s, dressed in red and sporting a thick white beard.
Christmas markets spread out into the countryside; people from around the world come to choose decorations and sweets. Towns are festooned with magnificent illuminations, thwarting the early onset of night until the winter solstice, on the 21 or 22 December.
Did you know? The Christmas tree is from Alsace! Since 1521, records have mentioned a tree of life decorated with apples and hosts, symbolising the fruits of temptation and the fruits of redemption. The tree was gradually introduced into our homes, and further embellished with stars, candles and more. The apples were replaced by balls of glass following a shortage. Glass makers in the Northern Vosges decided to blow apples of glass… and the Christmas bauble was born! The artisans of Meisenthal continue this tradition today!


The aromas of mulled wine and Bredele (traditional alsatian biscuits) guide you through the glittering streets. Local specialities contain hints of citrus and exotic spices brought from trading posts in India or Africa. From 6 December, we devour “Mänele” (“little men”) made from brioche dough, symbols of the children saved from the butcher’s salting tub by the good Saint Nicholas.
“Bredele” or “small cakes” with unlikely names such as sprits, schwowebredele or zimmtsterne symbolise the key moments of Christianity: the shepherd’s star, the tree of life, the resurrection… The Christstollen is the king of all Christmas pastries. Originating from the other side of the Rhine, this cake represents the baby Jesus wrapped in his warm and protective swaddling clothes.

Come and discover Alsace and its Christmas traditions!


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