Come and celebrate the end of the year festivitiesin the Provençal way

Getting ready for Christmas in Marseille

Ho ho ho, Christmas is approaching and with it our Provencal and Marseille traditions of December! Come and get ready with us for the end of the year celebrations under the sun.

Published on 7 December 2020

When wheat brings wealth

It all starts here on December 4th, every self-respecting Marseillais plants the wheat of Saint Barbara (Patron saint of the firemen).

So what does it mean exactly? In the past, if the wheat grew well, the harvest would be plentiful and therefore wealth assured. Even today, tradition has it that if we plant the wheat in a cup, our finances will be plantiful throughout the coming year!

For the novices, here is a special tutorial called “plant your wheat of Saint Barbara”: Put cotton in a flat dish. Sprinkle it with a little water and spread the wheat over it. Water it regularly, without drowning it, so that it germinates. An ideal and easy activity to do with children!


Let’s treat ourselves to some santons !

While waiting for your wheat to grow, take a tour of the Santons Fair that is taking place on the Old Port. A multitude of small stalls offer visitors their little painted clay figurines that you will find in the nativity scene. A santon is a small hand-painted clay figurine which is found in the nativity scene.

Usually, we must remain faithful to our santonnier (santon maker) so that the whole nativity scene remains harmonious. The originality lies in the decoration, the stable, the mountains, the perspective, the fountains, the waterways ….

As a family, we will collect moss, branches, berries, pebbles, everything that will make the decoration of the nativity scene, that we will install on a buffet or a table in the living room for everyone to admire on Christmas Eve.

In a traditional Provençal nativity scene you will at least find the Holy Family (Mary, Joseph and Jesus), the donkey and the ox warming up baby Jesus, (even if in Provence, it is not so cold), the shepherds and their sheep, the ‘ravi’ (the simpleton of the village) with arms open in the air, shouting to whoever wants the hear that the Savoir was born, then all the small trades of Provence… and the character of the ‘pastorale’ (nativity play in provence) such as the angel, the blind man and his son, Jourdan and Margarido, Pistachié and the ‘boumian’ (the gypsy) that is usually hidden bahind a wall or a house. And for a touch of modernity this year you can even treat yourself to Professor Raoult !

Let’s eat!

Your wheat has grown, the nativity scene is decorated, now it’s time to eat.

Let’s install three white tablecloths, three cups of wheat and three candles, all representing the Trinity. Before you sit at the table, don’t forget the ceremony of the “cachio-fio” (the Yule log), which today is symbolized by the dessert that is served at Christmas. A log will be thrown into the fire with a glass of cooked wine, and someone will say “next year, if we are not more, let us not be less …”.

And here we go, dinner can begin, here it is called the Great Supper which includes seven courses: soup, aigo boulido (boiled water flavoured with thymes or laurel), snails, cod, vegetables, curly salad and goat cheese … and the 13 desserts! But you will have to wait until you return from the midnight mess to taste them. The number 13, for Christ and his apostles, brings a sweet touch to this Great Supper.

Lunch always takes place with family on the 25th, and it consists of meat – often roasted game- and of the 13 desserts which will remain on the table for three days.

Festivities to get the year off to a good start

Barely recovering from the Christmas meal, we have to prepare for the Epiphany! On January 6th, we add in the nativity the three Wise Men from the East, and we taste the ‘galette des rois’, a crown-shaped brioche decorated with green and red crystallised fruits. The youngest child slips under the table and says “for whom? for granny, for uncle …” and whoever finds the bean or small figurine hidden in the cake will be declared queen or king, and have to wear a crown proudly. The ‘galettes des rois’ are eaten throughout the month of January.

February then points the tip of its nose. The time of Christmas ends with Candlemas, which is the time of purification. The procession of the faithful holding a green candle, with the Black Virgin, starts from the Old Port to Saint-Victor Abbey, where mess is held in the crypt and the Archbishop then the blesses the ‘Four des navettes’ (Oldest bakery of Marseille located next to the Saint Victor Abbey). The ‘Navette’ is a dry boat-shaped cookie flavored with orange blossom, reminding us of the boat which brought the saints to the shore of the Mediterranean sea a long time ago.

The santons return to their boxes, the wheat is wilted, the 13 desserts are all eaten … the magic of Christmas is over but will soon return!

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