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A “Provençal” Christmas – Traditions and childhood memories

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Another year has passed and Christmas is fast approaching. Memories. Back to France. Traditions and memories…

France is a country rich in traditions and traditions vary according to the regions. Today, I will focus on Provence, where I grew up and where Christmas is a cherished holiday in the hearts of the inhabitants.

In fact everything really begins December 4, the Saint-Barb’s day, beginning of the provençal calendar (Provençal Calèndo = Christmas). This day we plant wheat and even sometimes lentils. I remember doing this with my mum and my grandmother when I was a child, a moment of joy by preparing a small piece of cotton on which I had to gently deposit the wheat, water it and wake up with excitement each morning to see the wheat growing . As my grandmother often told me, it’s important to do it because it brings money into your home. Indeed, if the wheat grows well and is green, the year promises to be prosperous.


This Provençal ritual dates back to Antiquity, which was a good way for children to connect with the land.


Provence is certainly one of the regions of France where Christmas traditions are the strongest. It is also in Provence that appeared santons (in Provençal “santoun” meaning “little saint”), these small figurines of clay made with love by the “santonniers” represent inhabitants of the village. The crib actually has its origins in the Middle Ages. Back then, the cribs were exclusively in the churches; following the French Revolution, churches close and people decide to rebuild the crib at home.

In 1798, in Marseille, Monsieur Lagnel will realise the first santons.

We will have to wait until midnight on December 25 to finally place little Jesus in the crib, a moment that is still very strong for children and believers.

Of course Christmas is a time that we spend with family and especially a great opportunity for gourmets. Let me tell you that in Provence we know what we are talking about; especially with the thirteen desserts, another more recent tradition that I l do love.

Since 1920 the desserts symbols of Jesus and the 12 apostles are represented by “beggars” who recall that the religious lived through charity, such as:

  • hazelnuts or walnuts
  • dry figs
  • raisins
  • and almonds


Added to this are other desserts such as:

  • The fougasse (cake with olive oil and orange blossom), it must be broken, as Christ did with the bread at the Last supper.
  • The dates (which can be disguised with almond paste) – another pleasure shared with my grandmother who adds a small walnut on the marzipan
  • White nougat and black nougat (with honey)
  • “Oreillettes”, donuts, waffles ..
  • The quince paste or jam
  • White grapes
  • Oranges (sign of wealth)
  • Melons or other candied fruits
  • Clementines


Today of course these religious traditions have become important traditions of Provence whether religious or not. Traditions that remind us how important sharing is, that it goes through little happiness spent with family without falling into the trap of Christmas being over marketed.

Merry Christmas to all believers or not. And as we say in Provence “Bon Bout d’An” (good end of the year)


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