Christmas traditions start on December 4, Saint Barbara’s day, and end on February 2 with Candlemas. This holiday season is called “Calendale”.

According to this tradition, on Saint Barbara’s day (Dec. 4) we put grains of wheat or lentils to sprout in three different saucers, covered by wet cotton. If the grains grow straight and green it is a sign that the coming year will be prosperous. The new plants will later be placed in the family crèche.

On the 24th of December, we begin the evening with the ceremony of the “Cacho fio”.

The youngest and oldest members of the family choose a Yule log from a fruit tree, generally olive tree, which they carry three times around the dining table. The “grandfather” places the Yule log in the fire place and then blesses it with mulled wine. Then, he pronounces the following words in Provençal :
“Cacho-fio (Yule log)
Bouto-fio (Give us a warm fire)
Alègre, alègre (Joy, joy)
Dièu nous alègre (God give us joy)
Calènde vèn, tout bèn vèn (Christmas is coming, everything is coming well)
Dièu nous fague la gràci de veire l’an que vèn (God grant us the grace to see the coming year)
E se noun sian pas mai, que noun fuguen pas mens” (And if there are no more of us, may there be no less of us)”. Creche M.Orsini 2012grand-mere et enfant devant la creche

After this traditional ceremony, we have the “Gros souper” before going to midnight mass. It is served on a table dressed with three white tablecloths on which will be placed three white candlesticks and three saucers containing the sprouts of the Saint Barbe wheat, symbolizing the Trinity and Hope. The meal is light, composed of seven lean dishes, remembering the seven pains of Virgin Mary. In Marseille region, it is most of the time eggs, cod accompanied by spinash, chard and celery with anchovy sauce.

Midnight mass celebrates the birth of the Baby Jesus. The religious service will be accompanied by a vigil where Provençal Christmas songs are sung, and the “Pastrage” ceremony when a young lamb will be brought as an offering, carried by shepherds.

After the Christmas midnight mass, a hot spiced wine is served on the church square, then the whole family gathers for the thirteen desserts. Thirteen in honor of Jesus and the 12 disciples present at the Last Supper. We find on the table :
– the 4 “beggars” : (named for the colors of the robes of the monks of the “beggar” orders) : dried figs (Franciscans), almonds (Carmelites), raisins (Dominicans) and walnuts (Augustinians);
– dates, symbolizing Christ coming from the East;
– white and black nougat, white for purity and Good, black for the impure and Evil;
– “fougasse”, a brioche made with olive oil;
– candied fruits;
– “oreillettes” (deep-fried sugar pastries);
– fresh fruits : oranges, tangerines, pears, grapes or winter melons.

treize desserts


On the 6th of January, this is the Epiphanie day, the arrival of the Three Wise Men, Melchior, Gaspard and Balthazar, at the manger where the Baby Jesus was born. They followed the Shepherds’ star that guided them to Bethlehem. We celebrate the Epiphanie with a special cake called the “Kings’ cake” (gateau des rois). In Provence this cake is a brioche with candied fruit and sprinkled with sugar. Inside the cake are hidden a bean and a santon. The person who finds the bean is declared “king” and the one who finds the santon becomes his subject or servant.

The Christmas season ends with Candlemas which celebrates the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Jesus in the temple.
In Provence it is traditional to have a candle blessed at church, and then the family must return home without the candle going out, otherwise it is a bad omen. Then it is time for crêpes (French pancakes)! When the first crêpe is made, the cook must hold a coin in one hand and flip the crêpe with the other.
The coin is then folded inside the crêpe and saved until the next year. Last year’s crepe will be thrown out and the money given to a needy person.

Merry Christmas to all! Noël sapin et creche

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