Carolyne Kauser-AbbottInspireProvencal History & Traditions

For the Christmas Creche in Provence Santons are a Must

As a family, we always had a creche at Christmastime. Saying it was handmade makes it sound like a professional job. However, it was anything but rather the result of a haphazard artistic collaboration between my brother and me. Somehow that creche has stood the test of time, and my parents still pull it out every holiday season.

In Provence, the traditional creche includes santons (little saints). These clay figurines represent biblical figures and any number of village characters, including but not limited to the butcher, baker and candlestick maker. We asked Marie-Helene, the co-founder of Remember Provence, to share why santons feature in her family’s creche at Christmas.

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Santons History

The crib or creche is a very ancient tradition of representing the nativity scene with living characters. It began in the 13th-century churches, thanks to Saint Francis of Assisi, which earned him the patronage of animals and santonniers.

Santons Christmas Provence Village Lady

This custom gradually evolved into family cribs. During the French Revolution, when public religious symbols were banned, households made nativity figurines of various materials and kept them from external view. Families used these small figures to continue the holiday tradition at home. Christmas cribs were no longer public but only in homes and linked to Christmas history.

In the 19th century, the Provencal crib became what it is today: a set of earthen characters representing the most common trades in a village.

Santons Christmas Provence Firewood Collector

The religious theme remained since they are called santons, from the Provençal “santoun” or “little saint,” although the only nativity scene figurines are Joseph, Mary, and the child Jesus. The three wise men are added to the scene on Epiphany, January 6th.

These characters from the Christmas crib were made of porcelain, papier mache, breadcrumbs and plaster.

Santons Christmas Provence Village Lady

In Marseille, in the nineteenth century, the competition of Neapolitan merchants who sold santibelli plaster generated resistance from the Provencal santons makers. They imposed the cooked clay and proposed their creations on santons markets. These are still very popular today in the France Christmas markets. Read the full article here.

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Christmas Recipes from Provence

Bûche de Noël (Yule Log)
This delicious and festive cake is a perfect end to any holiday celebration. Whether you're gathering with friends or enjoying a quiet evening with loved ones, a slice of this decadent cake is sure to get you in the warm Christmas spirit.
Check out this recipe
Making Bûche de Noël
Galette des Rois
A classic Christmas cake made from puff pastry, filled with frangipane and a small treasure or feve hidden inside.
Check out this recipe
Galette des Rois Kings Cake Provence @CocoaandLavender
Galette Provençale - Christmas Cake
Shaped like a wreath and decorated with dried fruit, the galette Provençale is a seasonal favourite. This recipe takes a bit of time, but like all holiday baking, the result is delicious and well worth the wait.
Check out this recipe
Galette Provençale a Traditional Holiday Recipe
Christmas Almond Crescent Cookies
A fantastic treat for the Holidays and plenty to share with family and friends!
Check out this recipe
Almond Crescents Christmas Cookie
Christmas on the French Riviera Cocktail
A spicy cocktail to add extra celebration to the holiday season!
Check out this recipe
Gin Cocktail for Christmas
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Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

With her camera and laptop close at hand, Carolyne has traded in her business suits for the world of freelance writing and blogging. Her first airplane ride at six months of age was her introduction to the exciting world of travel.

While in Provence, Carolyne can be found hiking with friends, riding the hills around the Alpilles or tackling Mont Ventoux. Her attachment to the region resonates in Perfectly Provence this digital magazine that she launched in 2014. This website is an opportunity to explore the best of the Mediterranean lifestyle (food & wine, places to stay, expat stories, books on the region, travel tips, real estate tips and more), through our contributors' articles.

Carolyne writes a food and travel blog Ginger and Nutmeg. Carolyne’s freelance articles can be found in Global Living Magazine, Avenue Magazine and City Palate (Published Travel Articles).

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