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In Provence, the tradition-driven Christmas period (‘Calendal’) stretches from the beginning of December to the beginning of February. A variety of minor and important ceremonies are celebrated in the family home or with the whole village: Christmas wheat, Saint Lucy, the ‘Gros Soupa’ and Candlemas.

Avant Noël

Festivities before Christmas

Advent

The first Advent Sunday
The beginning of the Christmas period. Advent lasts for the period that includes the 4 Sundays before Christmas. It is a time of penitence and the beginning of a period of fasting and reflection to prepare for Christmas. Advent used to be announced in the street, with pipes and tambourines.

 

4th December: Feast Day of Saint Barbara

On this day, wheat is sown in three ‘seitouns’ (saucers), to represent the Trinity. Watered generously and placed near the hearth, the wheat should be thick and green by Christmas, when it is placed on the table for the ‘Gros Soupa’.

 

13th December: Feast Day of Saint Lucy

‘On the Feast Day of Saint Lucy, winter’s grip starts to loosen’…to accompany the lengthening days, the shop windows, balconies and windows are lit with candles and lanterns.

 

©Fotolia
A Noël

Christmas

24th December: Christmas Eve

The nativity scene is prepared before everyone sits at the table for the ‘Gros Soupa’. Between the end of the meal and Midnight Mass, everyone needs to stay awake. Young and old gather around the fire to play games or listen to stories.

At the sound of the first bells calling people to Midnight Mass, a lantern is lit next to the nativity scene to symbolise the birth of Jesus. Before setting off for Mass, the children leave their stockings in front of the fireplace.

Once Mass is over, the baby Jesus is put in the cradle, the presents are opened and everyone enjoys the 13 desserts that remain on the table (according to tradition) and mulled wine to warm up.

24th December: Christmas night and the nativity scene

There is an ancient tradition, where a group of people dress up and go to the church to re-create the Bethlehem nativity scene.

The other figures of the nativity scene (shepherds, sheep, donkeys) parade through the village streets in traditional costume, lit only by their lamplight, and go to church. The present-givers leave their gifts by the nativity scene, whilst the shepherds remain at the church door for the ‘pastrage’ ceremony.

25th December: Christmas Day

This is the day to eat the stuffed turkey. After the meal, people visit relatives or receive guests.

‘A Nouve me tei parens, à Pasquo me toun cura’
‘Christmas with your parents, Easter with your priest’

 

26th December: Boxing Day

This used to be a bank holiday, where everything was closed and the newspapers were not printed. Families eat aïoli together – the farewell meal.

Après Noël

Festivities after Christmas

From Saint Sylvester to Candlemas

31st December: the Feast Day of Saint Sylvester

People stay up until midnight in order to ring in the New Year and kiss under the mistletoe. The following day, the 1st January, nobody goes to work, and absolutely nobody does the dishes! Children often go to wish their parents and close friends a Happy New Year and receive New Year gifts.

 

6th January: Epiphanie

The Three Wise Men, travelling to see the baby Jesus arrive, and pipes and tambourines announce their arrival to the village.

To celebrate, we ‘tire les rois’, meaning we eat a brioche crown in their honour, containing candied fruit and a ‘fève’. The youngest sits under the table and chooses the portions given to each guest. The ‘king’ has to bring a cake to the next meal.

 

2nd February: Candlemas

This marks the end of the Christmas period, the nativity scene is taken down and the santons are put away.

©Fotolia