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