For a while now in Cholet, the main square has been filled by dozens of pine trees, creating a little barrier around the Marché de Noël, or Christmas Market.
On Dec. 1, the Christmas lights hanging over the streets were lit, along with the cottage of Papa Noël (Santa) and a mock church that plays holiday music.
My host sister Lou-Ann and I went on a rainy afternoon to check it out. We were almost the only people brave enough to walk around in the wind and rain. We ran between the vendors’ wooden stalls, trying to stay dry and looking at gingerbread, jewelry, soap and glassware. I found the gingerbread men adorable, and had to buy one (also since we were using the stall to stay out of the rain). I had the idea to go in the cute church to wait out the storm, but sadly the door didn’t open. The vendors across from the church laughed with us and said that we weren’t the only ones to try that today.
Lou-Ann and I walked around a little longer, looking at all of the sparkly, festive things for sale in shop windows. On the cobblestone sidewalks in front of the stores, the town put out Christmas trees covered in glitter, and cement blocks wrapped to look like presents. If it were snowing instead of raining, it could have been the set for a Hallmark holiday movie.
This past weekend in Cholet, people were outside eating churros and starting their Christmas shopping.
Meanwhile in Paris, the “Gilets Jaunes” or yellow jackets, were protesting the gas tax increase for the third week. The protestors were in Cholet on Nov. 17, blocking the roads and making it very difficult for my host family and I to get to the grocery store. Luckily, that was about it in my town.
This weekend, the movement continued in Paris and became more violent with damage to the Arc de Triomphe, cars torched, shops looted and most of the city’s transportation blocked. The Gilets Jaunes are constantly on the news here, and a favorite topic at lunch at school. My French classmates are all very opinionated and started throwing bread across the table when they wanted to tell everyone what they thought about the protests.
This upcoming weekend, there is a Rotary retreat planned a few hours from Cholet. The other exchange students and I are going to spend a couple days together and hopefully go to more Marchés de Noël, if the Gilets Jaunes allow!
• Bridget McTague is a Juneau-Douglas High School student who is spending her junior year abroad in Cholet, France, as part of the Rotary Youth Exchange. Follow along with her travel adventures by reading her bimonthly column “Bridget Abroad” in the Juneau Empire.