Christmas in Alsace is a real tradition, more than anywhere else in France. It’s a holiday season that Alsatians prepare for many weeks in advance, during which fine food and craftsmanship have a special place. To experience it we follow Olivier Nasti, Michelin-starred chef at Chambard; Sylvie Grandjean, artist and florist; and Peggy Wehrling, potter and craftswoman, in their preparations between Kaysersberg and Soufflenheim, and at the heart of the Alsatian forest.
Christmas holidays are special in Alsace. More than anywhere else, the locals here decorate the interiors, balconies and facades of their homes.
At this time of year, local knowledge is also very much in demand. France.fr followed three personalities: Olivier Nasti, chef at Le Chambard restaurant in Kaysersberg; Sylvie Grandjean, a florist who makes Christmas wreaths; and Peggy Wehrling, potter and craftswoman in Soufflenheim.
Alsatian traditions: sources of inspiration for Olivier Nasti’s cuisine
Michelin-starred French chef Olivier takes inspiration from the traditions of those who live in the remote villages of the Alsatian forest, to create his recipes at Le Chambard. The restaurant is situated in Kaysersberg, at the heart of the vineyards and backed by the Vosges mountains. At Christmas, “the whole village is decorated, it’s magical”, describes the chef; “and everyone puts fir trees or garlands on their windows”.
At Christmas, but also throughout the year, Olivier aims to express his love of Alsace through his cooking – he says he “learned so much here, between the vineyards and the mountains”, before being recognised as a chef who breathes new life into Alsatian cuisine. “I’m giving back to Alsace what she’s given me for the last 20 years”.
Sylvie Grandjean gets ready for Christmas by collecting pinecones and moss to make her natural Christmas wreaths. An artisan florist, she also decorates her shop. “It's a treat with all the candles lit everywhere,” she says.
Christmas wreaths for Advent
In Alsace, the Advent crown has four candles, one of them lit on each Sunday before Christmas. “It’s a very festive period that makes you really look forward to the big day".
“It has to be cold at Christmas to allow you to fully appreciate the smells of mulled wine and cinnamon, star anise and gingerbread. Nature is cold and beautiful; pinecones close up in the cold and open with a ray of sunshine.” The natural environment inspires Sylvie in her creations.
Peggy Wehrling, potter and craftswoman, admits that Alsatians are a little “crazy” in their passion for the preparations for Christmas. Peggy founded her own pottery in Soufflenheim, a village where potters and their families have lived for generations.
Terracotta dishes to unite the family for their Christmas meal
She models the clay to make earthenware dishes that will really set off Christmas dishes, whether sauerkraut, hotpots or other Alsatian culinary specialities.
It’s food that brings people together around a table, especially at Christmas time. “In Alsace we say that we cook too much, but it’s always to welcome and unite people,” says Peggy.
This is a comforting tradition, in a cosy fireside interior decorated the Alsatian way, and best appeciated after a chilly walk in the vast, beautiful forest of Haguenau... what better way to celebrate Christmas?