As the sun sets behind La Rotonde, a historic and central fountain in Aix, lights begin to flicker on the Cours Mirabeau, the main promenade street in the city. The once warm, sunny market days transform into a magical winter wonderland with colorful lights, holiday decorations, and a bustling Christmas market. Little white cabins along the Cours Mirabeau sell handmade trinkets, “vin chaud” (mulled wine), churros, marrons, traditional desserts enjoyed during the holidays, and even a magician stand! The laughter of children on amusement rides wades through the town center. The holiday season has arrived in Aix.
During the holiday season, which begins at the end of November, the streets of Aix don beautiful light decorations that inspire the holiday spirit. Even the fountain of La Rotonde, which had been closed for construction, shines brightly at the heart of the town. Multiple vendors, from craft items to fun food items, set up shop in little cabins for the Marché du Noël (Christmas market).
Some unique non-food stands to visit are a photography stand full of breathtaking sites around Aix and Marseille, a stand of blown-glass animals, and a stand of comic strips that you can find with your name or profession. Provence also has a charming tradition of santons, hand-painted nativity scene figurines representing religious figures and also Provençal villagers. There is a small fair in Aix and a larger one in Marseille. Even if you don’t buy a figurine, it’s amazing to just look at these intricately detailed masterpieces.
You can also try many delectable desserts. There is a stand that sells mulled wine, warming your hands and filling your stomach with warmth. There are stands with churros that crunch as you bite into them, and you can also buy a small cornet of marrons, which are roasted chestnuts. These are best enjoyed along with an espresso at a café while watching time and people pass by.
In addition to the food stand in the Christmas market, there were three festivals held in December in Aix, one of which is still taking place! The first festival was an international food festival, where members of Aix’s sister cities from around the world sold delicious food and items from their cities. The second festival was an olive oil festival with countless olive oil products. The last festival, which is still taking place, revolves around the 13 desserts of Provence. This Provençal tradition that takes part after “Le Gros Souper,” or the big supper, began as a way to represent Jesus and his 12 disciples. The 13 desserts include tangerines, dried fruits, nougats, calissons (very famous in Aix), and “pompes à l'huile,” a round, brioche-style bread.
Aix is a wonderful place to visit for the holidays to experience local traditions and feel the festive spirit. Take some time to take it in and relish the holiday season while studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence.
Andrea Vazquez is the Fall 2018 CEA MOJO Blogger in Aix-en-Provence, France, and is currently studying at Soka University of America.