One of the things I greatly enjoy about France and December are the Christmas markets. For the big cities, they transform what are otherwise drab and cold streets into the closest thing that a city street can ever be to a Christmas wonderland. Besides the ubiquitous little chalet style sheds, many of the larger markets have various attractions to amuse the children, from carousels, mini-train rides to ice rinks.
In some of the bigger towns and cities, Christmas markets get going at the beginning of December, at the same time when the town gets it decorations and lights up. These then last through to just before Christmas itself. I am spoilt for choice, as I live about half-way between the cities of Rouen and Amiens and both cities have big markets. The one in Rouen actually lasts through to the end of the first week of January. For people living in the UK, the Christmas markets in Rouen and Amiens make a good excuse for an accessible weekend break.
Smaller towns could not sustain a market for such a long period. So they tend to choose a weekend before Christmas, deck out their local town hall with festive decorations and a few stall holders sell anything from regional produce to seasonal arts and crafts.
I have to admit that one does see a lot of tat on sale, but there are some good stalls. I tend to go for those selling regionally-specific produce – there is always a good deal to be had on some delicacy or other from another area of France we do not always see in the shops and supermarkets. And of course, during the winter nights it is good to just take a walk and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells with a cup of mulled wine.