Is it possible to hear familiar Christmas music in Paris? Indeed yes, many English and American churches offer traditional carol services in December. You can also choose from a smorgasbord of classical music offerings, from opera to string quartets, often performed in historic surroundings.
Many quite inexpensive classical concerts are held in Paris’s churches. A popular venue for concerts is Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre on the left bank. This ancient church in the Latin Quarter offers performances nearly every week through the year, with prices between 15 and 30 euros. When you leave at the end of the evening, you can look across the Seine at the illuminated facade of Notre Dame. La Sainte Chapelle on the Ile de la Cité is another magical venue. Concerts there are generally held on Saturdays and Sundays, and prices usually range from 18 to 45 euros.
How do you find out what’s on where and reserve a seat? Your best bet for classical music is Classictic.com. Enter your destination and your dates, and the site will give you a listing of events. Prices are slightly lower on Infoconcert.com, but the site is in French only. However, this site offers an exhaustive listing of musical events in all genres, and you can search by artist, location and date.
Of course, these sites list only those concerts for which tickets are being sold, and in Paris, many musical treats are free.
For example, the American Church in Paris in the 7th Arrondissement sponsors free “Atelier Concerts” every Sunday at 5 p.m. throughout the year. You can support the series with a voluntary donation.
If Christmas is not Christmas for you without the Service of Lessons and Carols, head over to the American Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Paris in the 8th Arrondissement. This is the building featured in the 1890 painting by Jean Béraud, showing the congregation spilling out onto the boulevard after a Christmas service. The cathedral supports a large choir and extensive music programs, and its mid-December services are a long-standing tradition.
For a more intimate carol service in a smaller setting, Saint George’s Anglican Church in the 16th Arrondissement offers an evening carol service in mid-December. Note that this church is tucked inside a modern building, so you have to look carefully to find the entrance.
You don’t even need to attend a service or a concert—the Christmas street markets often have musicians enlivening the scene, although some may not be playing pieces that sound particularly Christmassy to North American ears.
In fact, you won’t hear a lot of seasonal music broadcast in public places. Opinions are divided about why so few French shops and department stores play Christmas songs during the holiday shopping season. Some think it is because France considers itself a secular society. I think that the French simply have a more relaxed attitude toward Christmas—for most people, New Year’s is the bigger celebration.
Meanwhile, if you long to be in Paris but are stuck at home basting a turkey, log on to the Paris Soundscapes blog, where you can listen to short recordings of the sounds of the city, from jazz musicians in the Luxembourg Gardens to an Edith Piaf soundalike in Montmartre to buskers and accordionists in the metro. Close your eyes and you are there.
American Church in Paris
American Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in Paris
Saint George’s Anglican Church
Philippa Campsie writes for the blog Parisian Fields, which covers everything from contemporary street art to Paris history. Her most recent article for GG2P is “Miss Lunch Stands Out among Cafés in Paris for Food, Art and Olive Oil.”
Editor’s note: These are the final days to buy the perfect Christmas or Hanukkah gift for the Francophile in your life. It’s the gg2p GO-Card of course! Right now we have a holiday offer: buy one, get one free for a friend. One for you and one for another—it’s the most fun way to shop!