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provence at christmas


Though the people of France share many Christmas traditions,
each region also has its own which make its Christmas celebrations unique and
special. Provence, where you can find several of our luxury French gites, in
particular is a great place to stay during the Christmas period, as the season
lasts from 4 December until 2 February, meaning almost two months of
festivities.

The Christmas period in Provence begins with St Barbe?s Day
on December 4. According to tradition, wheat and lentil seeds are planted on a
bed of cotton wool, symbolising the future harvest. If the shoots grow straight
and green, it is believed that the coming year will be prosperous. Once the
shoots have grown, they are tied to red ribbon and used to decorate the
nativity scene and the Christmas Eve dinner table.

In most homes in the region, you?ll find a crèche (pictured
above), or a nativity scene, featuring small figures known as santons. These
are made from wood or clay by local craftsmen, with a typical crèche featuring
santons representing biblical characters such as Mary and Joseph, farm animals
and people of other professions such as shepherds and fishmongers. Public
nativity scenes from shop window displays to large scale scenes can be seen
throughout Provence, and there is also a fair dedicated to crèches and santons,
the Salon International des Santonniers in Arles.

Arles is also home to another Christmas celebration, the
slightly more unusual Droles de Noels festival. The festival provides some
great festive entertainment throughout the streets of the town, including
singers, magicians and puppeteers, while the nights draw to a close with
firework displays which light up the skies.

Fast-forwarding to Christmas Eve, another Provencal
traditional is the cache-fio ceremony, which takes place just before the
evening feast. During the cache-fio, logs are chosen from a fruit tree by the
youngest and the oldest members of the family, which is then carried three
times around the dining table, blessed with mulled wine and lit in the hearth.

Following the log ceremony, it?s time for the evening feast,
which also comes with its own regional traditions. According to tradition, the
table should be set with three white cloths layered over each other, three
white candles and three saucers with the sprouted seeds planted on St Barbe?s
Day, all representing the Holy Trinity. The first part of the meal consists of
seven plain dishes, which should not contain meat, followed by the thirteen
desserts. Among the desserts served as nougat blanc and nougat noir,
symbolising good and evil, dried and fresh fruits, candied melon and orange
peel served with wafer, and calissons, made from a ground almond paste.


Image: Guillaume Piolle,
available under Creative Commons

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