A Genuine Alsatian Christmas

Alsace Ecomusée ©T. Joly
The Alsace Ecomusée offers you the chance to experience Advent and Christmas just like the villagers of the 19th century might have done. Immerse yourself in a world of tradition, ancient customs and legends governed by the seasons and the preparations for these religious events.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
550 km from Paris on autoroute A6 till Beaune then on autoroutes A31 and A36 till exit 18, then on D430 till exit 5, direction Ecomusée.
- By train
TGV from Paris Gare de l’Est to Colmar or TGV from Paris Gare de Lyon to Mulhouse, then TER train from Colmar or Mulhouse to Bollwiller. The journey takes from 3 h 10 mn to 4 h 10 mn depending on the trains. Taxi or horse-drawn carriage from Bollwiller to the Ecomusée. Horse-drawn carriages on Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday and bank holidays, return ticket : €3, mandatory booking : 0389744468
Les Loges, situated next door to the Ecomusée
Best Western Alsace, in Bollwiller (4 km)
Domaine du Lac, in Guebwiller (8 km)
Château d’Anthès, in Soultz (7 km)
La Taverne, located in the Ecomusée serves decent dishes.
More gastronomic cooking is available in the following restaurants :
L’Envie, in Pulversheim (6 km)
Château d’Anthès
Alsace is renowned for its white wines. 16 km away from the Ecomusée, the Cave de Pfaffenheim produces excellent ones.
Good to know
In the Ecomusée, commentaries are in French and in German. A few employees speak a bit of English.
Ecomusée d'Alsace
Chemin du Grosswald
68190 Ungersheim
Open Tuesday to Sunday from November 30th to January 5th from 10.30am to 6.30pm
Adults : €15. Children 4 to 14 years old : €10. Family (2 adults + 2 children) : €46.
- Alsace tourist office
Tel : 0389247350
- Ecomusée d’Alsace
Tel : 0389744474
More so than anywhere else, Christmas in the Alsace has always been a day with special significance. For centuries, inhabitants have devoted a lot of time and a tremendous amount of care to the preparations for the celebrations that take place throughout Advent. Today, various cultural and religious events are still held in several towns and villages during this four-week period before Christmas that begins on Saint Andrew’s day or the nearest Sunday.

Alsace Ecomusée © T.Joly
 Towards the origins of Christmas
Indeed, much of what characterises Christmas celebrations as we know them originated in this region of eastern France. For example, it was here, in the early 16th century that the custom of decorating houses with fir trees began. At first, they were hung from the ceiling and only decorated with Hosts and red apples. Later, in 1785, it was again in this region that candles were added for the first time and, in the early 19th century, silver- or gold-coloured walnuts. Another important addition came in 1858 when a serious drought decimated the apple harvest, prompting a local glassblower to replace the fruit with glass bowls.
Every year, these traditions and customs, as well as ancestral legends, are brought back to life for a few weeks at the Alsace Ecomusée. Situated between Colmar and Mulhouse, it is the largest open-air museum of its kind in Europe, with some 70 buildings dating back to between 1492 and 1870.

Alsace Ecomusée © T.Joly
 Buildings from all over Alsace
Collected from the entire Alsace region, they were saved from destruction and rebuilt on this spot beginning in 1984. Today, they form an entire village with houses, a school, a railway station, a chapel, a fortified tower, farms and fields where pigs, cows, goats and poultry are free to roam. The genuine atmosphere is brought home by the presence of extras in period costume. Up to 130 mostly voluntary workers play the role of farmers and craftsmen attending to their daily activities. The visitor is transported back in time to the rural Alsace of the 19th and early 20th centuries. From the end of November onwards, visitors can live according to the rhythm of the Advent calendar, as did the locals in the past. They can prepare for Christmas in a spirit of community and sharing that is a million miles from the consumerist frenzy so typical of our present-day society at this time of year.

Alsace Ecomusée © T.Joly
 Adorned village
You won’t find souvenir shops or Christmas markets in the Ecomusée, but instead a small shop selling the products made by the craftsmen who work there: spirits, pottery, etc.
As they stroll through the village decked out in Christmas decorations and dotted with playful and magical gardens evoking traditional Christmas characters, families don’t only discover a remarkable architectural heritage. They also get the chance to watch the various winter activities of the locals: farmers head into the fields with their horse and carts to spread manure and come back with wood that is then sawed or chopped to heat homes; men plant or prune trees; women feed pigs, milk cows and transform milk into butter or cheese, cooks prepare meals made from seasonal produce.

Alsace Ecomusée © T.Joly
 Craftsmen at work
A peddler wanders through the village selling his goods and bringing news from other towns and villages; a blacksmith, a potter and a wheelwright are at work, while a distiller produces schnapps, the local spirit. All these craftsmen and the other local inhabitants are happy to share their knowledge with visitors.
At certain times of the day, there are storytelling about the life of the Saint of the day or Alsatian legends as well as workshops for young and old alike to create Christmas decorations, candles, New Year cards, local dishes and special Christmas pastries such as Bredala, a small cake shaped like a person. “We try to offer activities that bring the whole family together. Christmas is the perfect occasion for parents and children to get together” explains the director of the Ecomusée.

Alsace Ecomusée © T.Joly
 Several exhibitions
Saint Nicholas, the protector of children, who is very popular in northern and eastern France where he was once more celebrated than Santa Claus, is visible every day till December 7th and pays a special visit in the afternoon of Sunday 8th. He arrives with Hans Trapp – name given to Father Whipper in Alsace - who punishes naughty children. Then, from December 16th to 30th, every afternoon comes the Christkindel, Alsace diminutive version of Christkind. After Christmas comes the period known in the Alsace as the Petite Année (Twelfth Day of Christmas). It lasts until the Epiphany and its rich symbolism used to inspire farmers to make predictions about the future. So, from December 26th, storytellers unveil the rites and beliefs linked to the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Lastly, the Ecomusée hosts an exceptional show depicting the arrival of the Three Wise Men on January 5th.
In addition, a number of small exhibitions are set up in various buildings and present Teddy Bears, the story of the Christmas tree and its decorations, the Christmas characters.

November 06, 2019
Thierry Joly