Preparing for the Holidays

Georgia N. is currently a junior at SYA France and a blogger for the Campus Reporter program. She comes to SYA from The Lovett School in Georgia.

Back in my hometown, people went all out for the holidays; every house was decorated, every tree covered in lights, and every store playing holiday music as soon as December hit. Moving to Rennes, with everything else so drastically changed, I’d assumed the holidays would be, too, and yet I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see I was wrong; the traditional holiday spirit here is even stronger than I imagined, the city mirroring something out of a dream or a children's book. 

My favorite part of the city is probably the Christmas market near Republique, where you can take in Rennes from the ferris wheel and fake snow falls as you wander from stall to stall. Also, though, there’s the fair near Gaumont, with rides and games for people of every age, and the various artisan markets where you can find gifts for everyone on your list.

Walking through town and seeing the Christmas markets, the lights strung on the old buildings and over the cobblestone streets, it’s easy to forget about your school work and responsibilities and get lost in the moment. As I make my way from school to the bus, I smell the warming spices of “vin chaud,” debate grabbing a hot chocolate, and watch someone buy fresh churros dusted with powdered sugar, all of which is being sold at street stalls in the parliament square. I see my breath, too, and bury my face in my jacket, feeling cozy despite my reddening nose. 

It’s been a long time since I’ve celebrated a real Christmas--the tree, the stockings, the family meal, etcetera, and so preparing for the holidays in Rennes has rekindled a bit of that long lost Christmas joy. Most host families have already set up the Christmas tree--I spent an hour untangling the twinkling golden lights on ours and hanging the ornaments with my host brother just last week. Walking into my home, the decorations serve as a nice reminder that this season is about more than just the cold and oppressive weather, and I praise the heating system as I begin to defrost. 

It is true that the Bretagne weather is less than clement in the winter, or at least, compared to where I’m from, but it isn’t anything unmanageable; though it’s cold, it isn’t windy, and when the sun’s out it’s almost pleasant. Most of the time though, the skies are heavy and grey, and so I’m grateful the city overcompensates with decorations and events. 

Luckily, not every event is Christmas themed, so if you don’t celebrate the holiday or you’ve just tired of the markets, there is still plenty to do. Every year in Rennes, there is an event called the Trans Musicales; a series of concerts and performances around the city for a week in December. This event draws people from all over, and it’s one of the largest festivals in France.

Though there are three days of paid concerts for those who are really committed, the best part of the festival is the free, public events throughout the week. These vary from music to dance to conferences, always showing something new and encouraging their audience to branch out and expand their taste, and catering to people of every age and preference.

So, despite the weather, Rennes is an incredible place to be during winter; from the Christmas spirit to the free events, there is always something going on. Though it isn’t like the city that I’m from, the cozy atmosphere and holiday spirit in Rennes are enough to make anyone feel at home.

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