Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg
Paris, France
December 31
Writer, copy editor, translator, travel planner. Head servant to my cat.
A reader, a writer, a fingernail biter, a cat person, a traveller, a cookie inhaler, an immigrant, a dreamer. …And now, self-employed! If you like my blog and if you're looking for sparkling writing, painstaking proofreading, nimble French-English translation, or personalized travel planning, feel free to check out


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DECEMBER 22, 2011 9:57AM

The City of Holiday Lights

Rate: 21 Flag


lights 1 

Illuminated decorations outside a McDonald's by the Voltaire Métro station. 


As its famous nickname suggests, Paris is known for its lights.  On a typical nocturnal ramble, you’ll find beautifully illuminated monuments.  When the sun goes down, thousands of flashing bulbs make the Eiffel Tower scintillate for ten minutes of each hour, until the wee hours of the morning.  The city’s passion for illumination is especially clear this time of year: While the French aren’t generally very big on Christmas carols, holiday decorations, and TV specials, they do appreciate some tastefully chosen lights. 

The most famous are probably those in the trees lining the Champs-Elysées.  This year, though, most of us here have found the sort of “mod” décor lackluster compared to the avenue’s usual glittering display.

Another well-known Parisian holiday display is the lights and windows of the Galéries Lafayette and Printemps department stores, near the Opéra Garnier.  The stores’ windows feature a combination of haut couture to make fashionistas drool, and animatronic dolls and stuffed animals to make children dream, accompanied by a loud soundtrack of anything from the limited range of French carols, to modern-day pop hits. 

Going to see the windows is an iconic activity for Parisian families, but I’ve never personally found the window displays to be overly charming.  The dolls and stuffed animals never seem very cuddly to me, and the crowds can be overwhelming.  This year, though, as I was walking past the Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, another Parisian department store, I have to admit I was impressed.  Instead of stationary (albeit pretty) lights, the decorators decided to use florescent tubes and video screens to create a display that moves constantly over the store’s flat white façade. 



Here, for the first time I found myself truly delighted by a grand magasin holiday window display.  It’s not that the animated figures (in this case, stuffed bunnies attached to transparent robotic marionette strings) are doing anything particularly unusual; these displays usually integrate housewares or other items for sale, in a whimsical way.  I think it’s just that those bunnies had so much personality.  Maybe I’m wrong, and there have been stuffed bunnies like these before, but if that’s the case, only now have they struck me, for some reason.  Take a gander at these cute little guys:


 window 1


Yes, those two rabbits in the left corner are duelling with forks.  I relate more to the one on the stool, totally absorbed in his chocolate cake:

window detail 


Here, the bunnies help decorate a Christmas tree made of wood boards:

window tree 


Department stores and world-famous avenues aren’t the only places in Paris with holiday lights.  A lot of larger streets and boulevards are illuminated, as well, each often with its unique decorations.  Here, twinkling squares are suspended over the rue Dante, in the Latin Quarter (in the distance, you can see Notre Dame's spire):


Many shops and restaurants, big and small, have their facades covered in illuminated strands.  Here, Gibert Jeune, one of my favorite new-and-used bookstores in the city, has just turned on its lights for the night.  A dragon from the Fontaine Saint-Michel (Saint Michael Fountain), used to seeing only streetlights and the electric “Métro” sign, seems to look on in wonder:

 gj lights


Though most places have fairly subtle decorations (a light-covered awning here, a decorative assortment of glittery branches there), some, like the Mairie du 11e arrondissement (11th District Mayor’s office), go a little crazy.  Not only is the pretty 19th century building bathed in blue luminescence, the rows of bare trees in front of it are dotted with flickering snowflake-shaped lights that give the impression of a psychedelic blizzard.

 m du 11

If you’re thinking that these displays aren’t very ecological, the Mairie du 4e arrondissement (4th District Mayor’s Office)’s holiday decor might console you.


A group of fake illuminated Christmas trees


reveals something surprising when you come closer….


…They’re made out of used plastic bottles! 


So are the pretty lamps outside each window of the building's second floor.



Cities like Washington D.C. and New York have their famous big Christmas tree.  You may be wondering if Paris has one, too.  Here, you could say that there are two famous big trees.  The first is the stunning one that rises towards the glass-ceilinged dome of the Galéries Lafayette department store.  The second is the enormous evergreen put up in front of Notre Dame.  Its lights and ornaments always look a little unevenly applied, but it’s still a festive sight against the night sky and the golden-lit towers of the church.

notre dame tree 


Happy Holidays to everyone.  May this holiday season be full of the light of joy and love for you and yours, and may 2012 be a year of twinkles of happiness, the glow of health, and many, many sparks of inspiration!     

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Happy Holidays, everyone! I won't be online very often in the next few days, unfortunately, and even now I've got to hurry and get offline, but I wanted to post this to share it with you and to give you all my best wishes for the holiday season and the New Year!
Lovely, Alysa, just lovely. r
Thank you for these lovely photos and my holiday Paris fix! Joyeux Noël, mon amie.

Beautiful, thanks for sharing the lights! RRR
Sigh.. just beautiful with the love to go with it.
Thanks for giving us a bit of Paris. I hope you keep finding the delight in the season.
Thank you for the tour. Happy holidays to you!
Thank-you for the guided tour. Quite lovely. Hope your holidays are festive.
Neat idea for used plastic bottles.

Happy Holidays and best wishes for the New Year, to you, Alysa!
Thanks, Alysa. Someday I'll see it in person, but for now, this was wonderful.
Paris. Lights. Life is good. Joyeux Noel. Happy Hanukkah.
U say: let
“2012 be a year of twinkles of happiness, the glow of health, and many, many sparks of inspiration! ‘
Ok but you gotta be around to show us the way.
I twinkle dimly. I glow sometimes. Sparks of inspiration/ ? from dead authors.

City of lights.
Ha, only connection w/my family twofold: there in ww2 liberating it or whatever, hounded by ‘ach, those French girls’
2. his empty promise of 50 yrs to take Mom there.

Have fun. At xmas.
Ah...last year this time (more or less) I was enjoying the Xmas lights of Paris and the tree at Notre Dame.

The Italians of Turin and Milan did pretty good too...

Great pix. Have a great holiday!
Can a city be a living exhibit? Surely, yes. You remind us all the time. Paris ain't Paris for nothing.
I spent the summer in the 16th arrondissements. It was magical.
What a nice little tour of Paris. I haven't been there in about 12 years. I can't wait to go back and see what's changed.
Your wonderful photos always make me feel I'm in Paris again, Alysa. I've not been there at Christmas, so this is a delightful surprise. Happy holidays to you, too.
Thank you for this, Alysa. What a holiday treat, to have a glimpse into your pretty world this time of year. Love the plastic bottle trees. Happy holidays, OS collaborator.
Those bunnies are rockin'! Plastic bottles were funny too. Thanks for sharing the city of lights!
I loved that last photo. All of them are so fine. I love that you give us a glimpse of Paris. Thank you Thank you!!
Have a wonderful and safe Holiday Season Alysa.
Thanks for letting me see Paris during the holidays! To you, all that you've wished for us!
Finally catching up on all the posts from everyone I couldn't read before Christmas. =o) You've made me want to spend NEXT Christmas in Paris!

Hope you had Joyeaux Noel Alysa!
Heureuse Anniversaire!
Wonderful! I shared on FB because I just love the photos of the bottle Christmas trees!

Happy New Year!
What memories your post evokes! I well remember walking from along the Champs Elysees in the blustery winter, the lights warming me with their magic. Wish I were there now to catch the bunnies and plastic bottle chandeliers!
Thanks so much for sharing your Parisian Christmas images. Make me feel so much more international. HNY to you and yours!