From Marseilles to the villages of Luberon like Gordes, Roussillon, Lacoste, Ménerbes, passing by Aix-en-Provence and from Arles to Toulon, the traditions about Christmas are an essential part of the Provencal identity.
Hope for a good year
First of all, on the 4th of December which is the Sainte Barbe day, everybody grows wheat on a layer of coton in a bowl, and if it grows fast and green, it means that you will have a good and flourishing year! So, everywhere, kids, scouts, homeless or sellers, they all have small bags of wheat for sale in the beginning of this month.
Christmas markets: handicrafts and traditional food
Then, the whole month of December, you can enjoy Christmas markets in many cities. It is a beautiful spectacle with lights and decorations all over. The merchants stand in small wooden huts and each of them sells something different, from the most traditional handicraft items (wooden toys, vegetable soaps like the savon de Marseilles, candles and candlesticks), to the more classic products such as bags and jewellery. You will be treated to the mulled wine perfumed with herbs and spices, the candies of Aix-en-Provence called Calissons, the Navettes, cookies made with orange blossom water, specialty of Marseilles, the famous Gibassier or Pompe à huile, sort of bread with olive oil, and much more!
The santons, “little saints” of the nativity scene
And of course, in these specific markets, you will find the famous santons, little figurines made with the local red clay, painted by hand, that we use to make the “crèche”, the nativity scene in every home. They represent the holy family, but also the villagers of Provence: the lavender seller, the petanque players, the sheperds, and even famous local artists such as Cezanne, born in Aix-en-Provence or Van gogh, who spent two years in Provence, one year in Arles and one year in the asylum of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence.
For Christmas Eve, the family gathers in front of a good meal before going to the mass at the church of the town where the whole village goes, and in some villages, they even make a living crèche, where people dress up with the traditionnal Provencal costumes, they choose a new born baby that will represent Jesus, they bring a lamb, and everybody sings and plays with traditionnal music instruments: tambourin (the drum) and galoubet (flute or piccolo). Some villages are really famous for the living creche, especially Les-Baux-De-Provence that is supposed to be the best for that! After the mass, they go back home to enjoy the 13 desserts, very important in the tradition, the number 13 representing the 12 apostoles and Jesus. The celebrations last until the 27 of December, and then it’s time to prepare “La Saint Sylvestre”: New Year’s Eve!
Christmas traditions private tours
As you see, even in December a visit to Provence is worthwhile, so, why not following us on a private tour with the most beautiful towns at this time of the year: a tour including Avignon, Les-Baux-de-Provence, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, or Aix-en-Provence and Marseilles ? Of course there are many other suggestions that we can offer you depending on your special interests.