Christmas in Provence December 05 2016, 0 Comments
We could resume the Christmas traditions in Provence like this : Rich symbols with strongs emotions.
If you spent your childhood in Provence, you remember all the traditions such as sowing the wheat or building and mounting the Nativity at home during the cold and windy afternoons of December.
Everything starts on December 4th , day of the Sainte Barbe (Saint Barbara). This day rings the beginning of “Calendale” period that will end at the Chandeleur (Candlemas) on February 2nd. During these two months you can enjoy a succession of traditions and celebration throughout the villages of Provence.
The wheat of Sainte Barbe:
On December 4th , you have to sow seeds of wheat and lentil on three saucers covered by humid cotton. The small packets of seeds are sold in almost every bakeries and profits are distributed to charitable organization. If the stalks are growing straight and are green, that means the coming year will be prosper. These little fields will be placed afterwards within the Nativity Scene “la Crèche”.
The Crèche and Santons
To prepare the Crèche, many “santon’ fairs” are organized throughout Provence starting mid November. The real santon, the Provençal "Santoun" (small saint) is made of clay. It is created artisanally by hand and with love. There are hundreds of workshops between Marseille, Aubagne, Aix en Provence and Arles.
The figurines must take on human figure, a look, character and even a social rank. They represent the villagers going to the Crèche: petanque players, fish dealers, doctors, bakers, shepherds and many more ... The authentic Crèche is in fact an ideal representation of a Provençal village
In December, Christmas markets take place in every town, and allow you to prepare Christmas pleasantly. Gastronomy, crafts, decoration and gift ideas spread out in a warm and friendly atmosphere.
The open-air markets often offer hot cinnamon wine to warm you up. You will find everything you need to prepare the traditional Christmas meals , Provençale or not: turkeys and foie gras side the dishes of the big Provencal dinner and the 13 desserts.
Christmas Eve: the Supper
The supper is served on Christmas Eve before going to Midnight Mass. Nothing is left randomly, there is a symbolic behind each dish and everything is important.
The table is covered with 3 white tablecloths - with 3 lighted white candlesticks and 3 saucers of germinated wheat from the Sainte Barbe - the Trinity - Especially no mistletoe reputed to be bad luck!
The Large Supper “Gros Souper” is paradoxically composed of 7 charity plates in memory of the 7 pains of Mary. It is served with 13 little breads followed by 13 desserts representing the Last Supper with the twelve apostles and Jesus.
The charity plates differs from one corner of Provence to another. We often find celery, cauliflower, spinach, cod, omelet, snails, garlic soup, but no meat; only fish or shellfish.
The Midnight Mass
Everywhere you will hear Provençal Christmas songs, to celebrate this sacred moment. In some villages, the Mass may be in Provencal. The mass can include a living Crèche where the figures are represented by the villagers themselves in traditional costumes: the Holy Family (Jesus, Mary, Joseph), the Biblical Magi and the shepherds.
A pastoral can also take place: it is a representation of the Nativity, sung and spoken in Provencal by characters dressed in Provençal costumes. The most famous Pastoral representation is the Maurel Pastoral in Aix en Provence. There are 250 different versions that tell stories of villages and Christmas traditions.
Christmas Eve: the Supper: the 13 desserts
The 13 desserts are the only abundance. The thirteen desserts are enjoyed at the return of the mass, they will remain on the table during the following 3 days, until December 27.
The 4 beggars, in memory of the various religious orders having made vows of poverty:
- dry figs (Franciscans)
- almonds (Carmelite)
- dry grapes (Dominicans)
- walnuts (Augustins)
The dates: the symbol of Jesus Christ coming from the East
The nougats : white nougats in memory of white penitents and black nougats in memory of black ones
The olive oil’s fougasse (the pump): round slab flattened with olive oil
Candied fruit from the region of Apt and Carpentras
“Les oreillettes”: small and light waffles
Fresh fruits: Orange, pear, grapes, mandarine
For sure, you will see between all these desserts the Calisson as a candy and often associated with the nougats. Calisson by Gilles is deeply rooted with Provençal traditions and is a family favorite during this important moment of Christmas.
About The Author:
Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.