Provençal Christmas

Christmas in Provence

For centuries, Christmas in Green Provence has been the highlight of the year. The festivities begin on 4 December for the Feast of Sainte-Barbe and end at Candlemas on 2 February.

Spending Christmas in Green Provence is a chance to make contact with the authenticity of our Provençal region and its ancestral traditions.

Sainte Barbe
The tradition of wheat

“ Saint Barbe lived in the 3rd century. The patron saint of miners and powder monkeys, her memory is celebrated on 4 December, a day when seeds of wheat and lentils are sown on a layer of fresh moss in a few saucers.
The seeds grow until Christmas and produce magnificent green shoots, the harbingers of the expected harvest.
If the seeds have well sprouted on Christmas Eve, it is said that it will be a good year.
The most beautiful saucers are reserved for the Christmas table, while the others are used as a decor for nativity scenes. ”

Nativity Scenes and Santons in Provence

Early December is the ideal time for all the family to “make the crèche” for the happiness of all.
The decor of these nativity scenes reproduces Provençal life, with such vital elements as the well and water for the windmill, the communal oven, pine trees and, of course, baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the donkey and the ox, and the stars guiding the Three Wise Men.

To make the nativity scene, people use hand-made clay Santons (from the Provençal word "Santoun": little saint).
All sorts of Santons can be found, particularly depicting different trades and professions (from fisherman to shepherds, via doctors and bakers).

St Maximin Santon Fair
Provençal nativity scene

“ In the 3rd weekend of November, the St Maximin Santon Fair marks the beginnings of the Christmas festivities. Here you can find the little Santon you needed for the crèche, and a large number of gift ideas. Many craftsmen and artists present their work in the Royal Convent of Saint Maximin. ”

Christmas Eve and the Big Supper

The towns and villages come to life with living nativity scenes and Pastorale plays. Families share the "gros souper" (big supper), a lean but copious Christmas Eve meal that is rounded off by the thirteen desserts.

The Gros Souper (“Gros soupa” in Provençal) is a lean meal. The table is decked with holly with red berries and saucers of Sainte-Barbe wheat. A place at the table is always reserved for “the poor person”, the soul of dead ancestors who are invited to the meal. Seven lean dishes are served to recall “the seven wounds of Christ". Christmas Eve is a time of fasting and abstinence from meat, so the meal is lean, but copious. The large number of dishes contrasts with daily life, but they are simply prepared.

The 13 desserts
and even more...

“ Thirteen, like Christ and his twelve disciples. The desserts include the four mendiants (beggars), representing the different Catholic religious orders (raisins, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts, and dried figs).
To these is added quince jam and paste, pompe à huile cakes, crystallised fruits, black nougat and white nougat from Provence, apples and pears, plums, oranges (once a symbol of wealth), mandarins and clementines, the Christmas melon, white grapes and confectionery: chocolat truffles or sweets, angel wings, milk pancakes, almond biscuits and dates.
Everyone tries a little of each dessert while drinking some fortified wine. It brings you luck! All through the year... ”

Midnight mass and Epiphany

The first midnight masses date from the 5th century and are now celebrated throughout the world. It is an opportunity to listen and take part in the many carols and songs in the Provençal language, expressing the traditional religious fervour of Provence.

Epiphany is the time of the Three Wise Men, marked by the arrival on our plates of the delicious galette des rois (king cake), in the shape of a crown and garnished with crystallised fruit, the symbols of the Three Wise Men’s jewels.

and pancakes

“ 2 February brings the Christmas traditions gently to a close. The delicate moment to put away the crèche... but to enjoy some tasty pancakes, too. ”

Provençal Christmas : location of activity ideas