So its that time of the year again.
2015. There was this excitement of not knowing how Christmas is in Europe. The place where I attended university, Strasbourg, has this age-old tradition of cutting a ~30ft tall tree, planting it in the city centre — Place Kleber, decorating it with lights and artificial gifts, calling it the big Christmas tree — Le Grand Sapin de Noël; and the associated Christmas market(s), spread across 7 locations in Strasbourg, spilling mulled wine (Gluehwine/vin chaud) and Baguettes flambées all over the place.
The excitement did not last long as there was this horrific terrorist attack in Paris and the nation shut down. Some of us lived on the other side of the Rhine river (technically Germany) in a small town called Kehl — cheaper accommodation and since our “home university” was Freiburg (Germany), we were not obliged to have French visas. There is a bridge that connects both countries that went across the Rhine. On the following days of the attack and months to come by, for security reasons, a lot of us were asked to step out of the bus and a full interrogation was carried out. Lectures were missed, some were given a letter preventing them from entering France again — we were mere exchange students living across the border.
2016. Life took some of us to Strasbourg again. We learned that there was this grand opening ceremony for the Christmas market (marché de noel) and that many celebrities would attend. The “Armee de Terre” (ground troops) were a common sight since the 2015 attack. They would march in an unflinching two-line formation, with machine guns snug against their camouflage uniforms, covering the entire Grande Île (historic city centre), while locals and tourists watched by. Anyone trying to enter the city centre had to go through tight security checks no matter what.
2017. Going for the grand opening became a tradition. Some of us went to other countries to pursue their careers, but we made sure we met in Strasbourg for Christmas. We would meet in front of an Opticals at Homme de Fer. It rained a lot this year.
2018. Now the market and traditions had become boring for us, but we still went for the opening, chugged some of that mulled wine. This year I went home. India. The day my flight touched down, there was a terrorist attack in the market. A lot of people were injured and a few murdered by an armed terrorist. He was later killed in a shootout with the french police. A few of my friends were trapped inside bars and taverns.
2019. This year the market had all the elements from the previous years. Mulled wine, eateries, reunions, grand openings, everything. Fear was a new element. I had just returned from my marriage. But after a few days, everything seemed normal. People were laughing, having fun, bringing their kids and grandkids, I felt safe.
For the past three years, I’ve been living right across the market situated in Place Broglie, and I have never felt safer. But this whole tradition has been sort of repetitive and there is a lack of creativity here. Every restaurant/shop decorates its facade with the same decor as in previous years, the same sellers, and the same people. As a person who has been here consecutively for the past five years, and like any other local from Strasbourg who might’ve felt the same, this Christmas… Dear Santa, I wish for something new.