Christmas Traditions Provence style

Written by on December 4, 2017 in Gastronomy, Provence-Alpes

table laid for Christmas desserts in Provence

Provence shares many Christmas traditions with the rest of France, like sapins de Noël (Christmas trees) and Pére Noël (Father Christmas.) But it also has some unique ones of its own.

Thirteen Desserts? Oh My!

Perhaps the most famous Provence Christmas tradition is the treize (thirteen) desserts. Wait, thirteen? Yes!

These are eaten after midnight Mass, which means in the wee hours of Christmas—what a great way to start the day! Like the gros souper, the treize desserts are full of religious symbolism. Thirteen, for example, represents the number of people at the Last Supper.

Each family can decide what to serve but the desserts usually include fruits and nuts, candies and some sort of sweetened bread. My favorites are the two kinds of nougat, one white and one black, symbolizing good and evil.

Like the gros souper, fewer families prepare the treize desserts today than in the past but they maintain a loyal following. Some people just skip the dinner and the Mass and go straight to the desserts!

So at your Christmas dinner this year, when you are debating whether to have another slice of pie—go for it! Just tell your family that you are taking part in an ancient and noble French tradition.

Figurine of a folk woman in France called a santonThe santons of Provence

One is the santons, those cute little figurines sold all over Provence. They depict characters from village life such as the baker, the fishwife and the scissor grinder. They are popular with tourists, kind of like Hummel figurines but with a French twist. And their origin goes back to the French Revolution.

Crèches (nativity scenes) had long been popular in France but were banned by the fiercely anti-clerical leaders of the Revolution. What to do? An artist from Marseille came up with a clever solution. He invented santons and turned the crèche into a “village scene,” using his little figurines in place of the usual Biblical characters. This passed muster with the anti-religious zealots, who somehow missed the fact that santon means “little saint,” and a new tradition was born.

Another Provencal Christmas specialty is le gros souper (the big dinner) eaten before midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. It is full of religious symbolism, like the three white tablecloths representing the holy trinity and the seven dishes representing Mary’s sorrows. It also requires a great deal of preparation, so fewer families today have this big dinner than in years past.

Keith Van Sickle is the author of “One Sip at a Time” available from Amazon; a feel good story about learning to live in Provence – read our review here.

Related Articles

3 of the most beautiful villages in Provence

We look at some of the most beautiful villages in Provence – in a region known for its extraordinary charm, these three stand out… Gordes – the heart of Provence If there is one place on the bucket list of most visitors to Provence, it has to be Gordes. It’s almost like going to Paris […]

Continue Reading

Pain Amour et Chocolat Festival in Antibes

I am a hopeless Francophile, my husband joined me when we married 14 years ago. Any excuse within reason (and a decent airfare from Arizona) and we are on a plane headed to France, especially the Côte d’ Azur. The turquoise sea, rocky cliffs, dazzling sunshine, friendly people, incredible food and wine, it’s sheer bliss. […]

Continue Reading

3 Festivals to enjoy in the winter sunshine on the French Riviera

 Banish the blues with a sunshine trip to the south of France. This time of the year flights are cheap and plentiful and with more than 300 days of sunshine a year recorded along the Cote d’Azur – it’s a great time to soak up a few rays. Here are 3 great reasons to visit […]

Continue Reading

Secret Provence | Cotignac and Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume

Cotignac At first glance Cotignac wows visitors with its large limescale cliffs reminiscent of ancient troglodyte living. Houses are literally carved into the cliffs and anyone can climb the steps that lead up to the old cave dwellings for a 2 euros entry fee during visiting season. The village has 2,300 inhabitants and is typically […]

Continue Reading

Nice Carnival blows the winter blues far away

If, like me, you’re used to grey skies, biting rain, sleet and snow in February – going to the Nice Carnival is the nicest possible shock to your system. I arrived at Nice train station wearing a coat, gloves, scarf and hat. Within minutes they were off and so was the jumper I was wearing. […]

Continue Reading

Subscribe

If you enjoyed this article, subscribe now to receive more just like it.

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.

Top