Christmas traditions celebrated in Provence

16th December, 2015
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