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

The flavours of the French Riviera

The cuisine of France is renowned for many reasons – across the country menus offer tempting regional dishes. The taste of the south though is very different from that of the north, influences from neighbouring Italy and from Spain and North Africa have left their mark. The sun drenched French Riviera, lapped by the Mediterranean […]

Continue Reading

Indulge your passion for fabulous food in northern France

In 2010, UNESCO awarded French cuisine ‘World intangible heritage status’, reflecting the importance of great food in France. A nip across, or under, the English Channel to northern France reveals a wealth of gastronomic delights. From lush produce at street markets, to tasty treats at the supermarket, cheese shops, wine shops and boulangeries that smell so […]

Continue Reading

How to do coffee, the Parisian way

At some point in history, it just became a fact that everything is more stylish in Paris. Of course, lot of other cities have their own version of “cool”, but there seems to a be a special way in which the Parisians do things that make everything seem so effortless and so… chic. Coffee is […]

Continue Reading

Cheese and Wine – the flavours of France

Nothing characterises French cuisine like cheese and wine!  Both have been made for centuries in France, it is said that Cantal cheese from the Cantal region in the Auvergne has been enjoyed for at least two millennia and it’s mentioned by Roman historian Pliny the Elder in a document dating back to 1 BC. There […]

Continue Reading

Avignon, a major historic city of the south of France

 The city of Avignon played an important role in the 14th century. Though nowadays, it’s mostly known for its bridge, the Pont d’Avignon, the city was once a residence for pontiffs who made their home at the Palace of the Popes. Besides its historic significance, Avignon has much to offer. Reasons to fall in love […]

Continue Reading

Subscribe

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

Subscribe via RSS Feed

Comments are closed.

Top