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CHRISTMAS IN PROVENCE

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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

A visit of the newly renovated and refurbished 18th century Hôtel de Caumont by Cecile CARREGA & Veronique FLAYOL

Last Thursday 7th of May one beautiful evening party was hosted in the outstanding building and gardens of the Hôtel de Caumont, new Art Centre in the historic town of Aix-en-Provence. We were invited to admire the result of an impressive and long renovation work to transform the former Music & Dance National Conservatory into the closest reproduction of what the mansion looked like at the time of its original glory.

Cécile & Véronique at Caumont Art Centre

Cécile & Véronique at Caumont Art Centre

Located in the Mazarin neighbourhood, the southern and aristocratic part of Aix-en-Provence, demonstrating Parisian influences, four elements characterize this kind of style: the gate, the courtyard, the main building and the garden, moving hierarchically from public to private space.

The outside of the Hôtel de Caumont as well as the main façade demonstrates a certain level of simplicity, combining the vertical and horizontal lines of the classical French style. The interior is far more decorated and demonstrates a mix of the Regency and Louis 15th styles.

Terrasse du café - Centre d'Art Caumont

Terrasse du café – Centre d’Art Caumont

Hôtel de Caumont - interiors

Hôtel de Caumont – interiors

For example the entrance hall has two atlantes, masculine sculptures located at the entrance to a building to indicate the importance of the owner. The hall also has mythological plaster work, and typically Provençal ornaments sculpted onto plaster.

The construction of the mansion was completed in three large stages between 1715 and 1748. This gradual construction over three decades was marked by the death of three successive owners: François Rolland de Réauville, his son Joseph-François de Tertulle and his grandson Jean-Baptiste de Tertulle. His mother supervised the completion of the final fittings and interior decoration by local artists.

Pauline de Bruny, wife of the Marquis de Caumont, inherited this grand mansion. It was said of the Marquis that he “took from Provence its most beautiful daughter, its finest château, its finest mansion, its largest fortune”. The final private owner of the splendid building was General Isembart who, after some renovations, resold it in 1964 to the city of Aix-en-Provence, ensuring it would be preserved. The Hôtel de Caumont opens today a new page in its history, that of a venue dedicated to art, artists, music, but this time being open to everyone.

In order to restore the Hôtel de Caumont’s beauty and atmosphere, in the purest spirit of the Age of Enlightenment, and to reinstate the original interior layout as conceived by the architect Robert de Cotte, the major works of restoration have been carried out in compliance with the rules governing the conservation of historic monuments and under the supervision of the Regional Department of Cultural Affairs.

the artist renovator

the artist renovator

The expert Didier Benderli was designated in charge of interior decoration and the result of his work is truly breathtaking!

Plans for the gardens of the Hôtel de Caumont are in the classic style of the period: immaculate geometric lines, pursuit of symmetry, open perspective, water parks… all hallmarks of “jardin à la française”.

To celebrate this new cultural site in Aix, the admirable exhibition “Canaletto, Rome – London – Venice: the Triumph of Light” is running up to the 13th September 2015. Do not miss this event and come to Aix-en-Provence, it is a pure delight!

Canaletto-Bucentaure

 

French Tour Designers and Guides-Interpreters, Cecile & Veronique have created private and exclusive excursions in the Bouches-du-Rhone & Var areas for Guests to experience an authentic Provence, take part in workshops or genuine meetings with the local community and independent producers. Presenting the hidden gems discovered off the beaten tracks during their own traveling, they always look for authenticity and excellence and share with passion the best of what the South of France has to offer.