Paris has long been called the City of Light, and for good reason. The sightseeing boats illuminate the Seine nightly, the Louvre and Pei pyramid glow, the Eiffel Tower sparkles on the hour, and you can see the brightly lit dome of Sacre Coeur from almost any place in Paris.
Paris is always full of light, but never more so than during the holidays. Ironically, few tourists ever get to see Paris in full illumination, as it exudes its extra glow just before Christmas through New Year’s Day. The holiday season in Paris is a sight you and your family will never forget.
The grand department stores pull out all the stops. Often beginning before our Thanksgiving, the stores are completely decorated, inside and out, in a blaze of illumination. But not only light, their windows come to life with enchantingly animated themes for children of all ages. But they erect special platforms directly against and in front of the windows of splendor so that no child should miss any part of the incredible sight. Historically, much of the animation consists of a complicated choreography of stuffed animals on invisible strings being manipulated above by computerized puppeteers.
The store overhangs are also aglow with lights and ornaments of the season. The smell of roasting chestnuts is in the air, as outdoor vendors prepare them on large metal trays. All the exteriors of all the large stores are alit with ever-changing hues, which cover the entire breadth and height of the huge stores.
Perhaps the grandest is the flagship store of Galeries Lafayette, the antiqued interior of which looks like a round, gilded multi-floored and multi-balconied opera house of old. The entire center of the massive store is open, and each of the many floors surrounds the interior with balconied overlooks. These look up onto a beautiful stained glass dome—the store is magnificent to behold any time of year.
But during the holidays, everyone’s favorite Christmas sight is the unimaginably huge decorated Christmas tree, rising in the open center of the store to the full height of the building. It is differently decorated each year according to that year’s theme. As you ascend and overlook from each level, you get a different perspective of this magnificent tree—all the way to the top floor of the building.
Each section of Paris, or arrondissiment, decorates with its own theme of lighting, and it is a marvelous mission is to try to see them all. But the most awesome sight is stepping onto the Champs Eylsees, lined from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe, with trees literally dripping with special icicle lights.
During this same period, a long Christmas market forms on both sides of the street between the Place de la Concorde and where the iconic shops begin on the Champs. There is something for everyone at the cheery market; unusal Christmas gifts, foods, decorations, and playgrounds for children. There is even a train for children to ride.
As you make your way down the magnificently lit Champs and through the Christmas market, you notice that the Place de la Concorde has erected a huge ferris wheel, itself completely lit, with large decorated and lit trees on either side. The view down the Champs, when standing in the center of the street, gives you a perfect photo either way you shoot.
Any side street you wander down will likewise give you an eyeful. The prestigious Avenue Montaigne decorates its trees differently and with different colors.
All in all, this is the best time of year to see all that the City of Light has to offer, and see it all truly come to life.