Branche de sapin de Noël©Christian Wiediger - Unsplash
©Christian Wiediger - Unsplash

The Christmas tree reigns in Alsace

At Christmas time, the Christmas tree takes centre stage on the squares of Alsatian towns and villages. Its woody aromas pervade homes, while its branches are used to make the famous Advent wreathes. A symbol of ancestral traditions, an emblem of the festivities, today the Christmas tree projects its majesty throughout all of Alsace!

Mention du sapin de Noël© Ville de Sélestat

Sélestat, home of the Christmas tree

In Alsace, and more particularly in Sélestat, the Christmas tree holds a special place. Head to the Humanist Library (Bibliothèque Humaniste) to see the first written mention of a Christmas tree, in a carefully preserved old document.

1521. The Sélestat town accountant took up his quill and wrote an entry in the town’s accounting books that would earn it a place in history. He recorded an expense of 4 shillings to pay the forest wardens, who looked after the fir trees in the town’s communal forest. He added that the inhabitants of the town would be able to take a fir tree from the forest to decorate “as has been done since the time immemorial”.

© Ville de Sélestat

Everything you ever needed to know about the Christmas tree

Although today, your fir tree stands humbly in the corner of your living or dining room, in Alsace that’s not how it always was. Originally, the Christmas tree would be suspended from a beam in the ceiling, before it got its feet on the ground again. In those days the decoration would be natural and edible, red apples, a reminder of temptation, and communion wafers, symbolising redemption.

Over time, the apples and communion wafers gave way to other edible goodies : bredele biscuits, waffles, spice bread and all kinds of sweets came to hang from the fir tree’s branches. Today, wooden, glass and ceramic figures have replaced the sweets.

You can find out more about the history of Christmas tree decorations and ornamental traditions at a sublime exhibition at Saint-Georges church in Sélestat. Every year, a variety of trees are displayed: suspended from the ceiling of the nave as they would originally have been or in more modern fashion, feet on the ground in the crypt, decorated with designer creations.

More about the exhibition
Grand Sapin - Noël à Strasbourg - Alsace©Emmanuel VIVERGE

The Great Christmas Tree, symbol of Christmas in Strasbourg

When you come to Alsace, there is one thing you absolutely have to see: the Great Christmas Tree in Strasbourg! It stands on Place Kléber, the square where historically many fir tree sellers would gather. Today, it keeps watch over the square and the city throughout the festive period. Majestic, glittering, its 30 metres make it one of the tallest decorated natural Christmas trees in Europe, no less! The Star of the Alsatian Christmas, seeing it for the first time is truly a moment of wonder!

Exposition de sapins©Ecomusée d'Alsace

Between tradition and modernity

In Ungersheim, at the Ecomusée d’Alsace, young and old alike can experience old-fashioned customs. At Christmas, the museum runs a Christmas decoration workshop. Come and learn new skills from craftspeople and make your own decorations to hang from your Christmas tree, according to the traditions of yesteryear. In an authentic half-timbered house pervaded by the smell of baking bredele, just follow the instructions and give free rein to your creativity!

Short of inspiration? Have a day out in Sélestat at the “Mon Beau Sapin” (My beautiful Christmas tree) competition. Designers, artists and amateurs let their imagination run wild to re-invent the Christmas tree in innovative and original ways. This year there will be over 100 different artistic and offbeat creations on display, including trees made of paper, metal, and wood.