Christmas in Provence

It’s nearly that point of yr… Christmas is on the horizon and I for one can’t wait! It’s a beautiful time to go to Provence with loads of issues to see and do.

An nearly palpable sense of pleasure will be felt as folks take day trip to go to the quite a few Christmas markets and partake in uniquely Provencal Christmas traditions. Should you’d like to actually absorb the spirit of Christmas then a go to throughout December is a should!

Beginning the festivities

The Christmas interval in Provence is named ‘La Calendale’ and begins on the fourth December which is the day of the patron Sainte Barbe (St. Barbara). Historically wheat seeds are sewn in three saucers of moist cotton wool (a well-liked college challenge!). Legend offers that if the seeds efficiently germinate then the harvest the next yr will likely be good – simply how good is dependent upon how excessive the seedlings have grown by the 25th December. You’ll see these dishes of (hopefully) inexperienced shoots adorning shows and houses all through the area and are conventional adornments for the Provencal Christmas Eve dinner desk.

Christmas markets

The French are consultants at markets and Christmas markets actually don’t disappoint! You received’t should journey far to search out a big market decked out with all issues Christmassy to get pleasure from. From Aix-en-Povence, by way of to Marseille, most main cities and cities (in addition to many smaller ones) revel within the alternative to host a Christmas market the place you’ll discover some nice items and loads of incredible food and drinks to pattern.

In addition to markets, there’s additionally a plethora of actions and occasions that the entire household can get pleasure from. Fancy a spot of ice skating? Then head to Cassis, a picturesque city on the South Coast of Provence which turns its city sq. into an ice rink (Patinoire) during the chilly climate. Additional up the coast in Arles the week earlier than Christmas is well known with a ‘humorous’ Christmas pageant – the Drôles de Noëls which sees circus performers, puppeteers, magicians and rather more prove onto town’s streets together with scheduled fireworks shows. Entry to performances and shows are free making this a energetic different to conventional Christmas markets.


A big Provencal Christmas custom centres round ‘Santons’. These are small painted clay collectible figurines that are skilfully sculpted by ‘Santonniers’ and are used to embellish Christmas Nativity crèches. Usually exquisitely detailed, they usually depict characters from on a regular basis walks of life in 19th Century Provence together with bakers, fishermen, nurses, gypsies and even the village idiot ‘Le Ravi’! And naturally let’s not overlook the newborn Jesus, Virgin Mary, Joseph and the three Smart Males who with out no Christmas Nativity could be full.

Households construct their assortment by including new items yr on yr that are specified by a standard village setting which may embrace cottages, the church, a bridge and so forth. Moss and different greenery helps convey these scenes to life and plenty of look completely spectacular! The overwhelming majority of Santon makers are to be discovered round Marseille and ever since 1803 an infinite truthful, le Foire aux Santons is held across the port in Marseille with 1000’s of Santons on sale. Effectively price a go to!

Christmas food and drinks

Christmas is unquestionably a time for indulging on the food and drinks entrance and there are a number of tasty traditions that make Christmas in Provence slightly particular. Not like some international locations which rejoice Christmas with a fundamental meal on the 25th, folks throughout Provence historically rejoice with their particular meal on the 24th December with ‘le Gros Souper’ (the massive supper!). Because the title suggests it is a feast worthy of the time of yr! The desk is laid with three tablecloths, one on high of the opposite earlier than three candles are positioned and lit alongside three saucers of wheat seedlings. The primary a part of the meal is eaten earlier than Midnight Mass and consists of easy Provencal dishes that replicate the season… 7 of them are served, usually as a buffet and, being France, every dish is accompanied by a distinct wine. Issues get actually fascinating after Midnight Mass when the household return to get pleasure from ’13 Desserts’; fairly actually, 13 completely different desserts which include nuts, fruits and sweetmeats native to the world like nougat or a Calissons d’Aix, an almond formed candy which is constructed from floor almonds and topped with vibrant Royal Icing. Different treats typically included within the 13 Desserts are Chocolate Truffles, Milk Shortbread, Dates filled with marzipan, Bugnes that are little orange blossom infused doughnuts and a collection of beautiful Candied Fruits.

The 13 Desserts are usually accompanied by a glass of Vin Cuit. This pretty dessert wine is nice and powerful and the right accompaniment to the desserts. It’s made by cooking grape juice in an oak caldron over the course of ten or so days. Throughout this time, the juice is decreased in quantity by spherical 50% earlier than being left to ferment. As soon as fermentation is full it’s left to age in oak barrels for 2 years. At 14% alcohol it’s fairly sturdy however undoubtedly scrumptious!

The Christmas festivities formally draw to an in depth at Candlemas on the twond February which commemorates the arrival of Mary Magdalene over 2,000 years in the past in Provence at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on this date.

It’s celebrated with the baking of boat formed biscuits referred to as Navettes – a candy cylindrical pastry which have a ‘fleur d’oranger’ flavour, they’re a tasty method of bringing this excellent time of yr to an in depth.

A Provencal Christmas is one thing to be skilled… the magic that Christmas as soon as invoked in us all as youngsters appears to stay on on this a part of the world. Wherever you find yourself celebrating your Christmas this yr might I want you all a Joyeux Noël!

Su Stephens is Proprietor of Olives & Vines.

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