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 dictates that we plant the wheat in a cup so that our finances are prolific throughout the 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 nativity scene figurine.

Usually, one must remain faithful to one’s 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 so that everyone can admire it on Christmas Eve.

In the traditional Provençal nativity scene you will find at least; the Holy Family (Mary, Joseph and Jesus), the donkey and the ox which warms the little Jesus (even if in Provence, it is not so cold), the shepherds and their sheep, the delighted one who is in fact the simpleton of the village who, with his arms in the air, shouts to whoever wants to hear that the Savior was born, then come all the small trades of Provence (the grinder, the garlic merchant, the soap merchant, the fishmonger, the fisherman, the hunter …) and the characters of the pastoral (play of the nativity in Provence), the angel, the blind man and his son, Jourdan and Margarido, Pistachié and the boumian (the gypsy) that is usually hidden behind a well 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 3 white tablecloths, 3 cups of wheat and 3 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 7 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 for the return of the midnight mass to taste them. The number 13, for Christ and his apostles, brings a sweet touch to this Great Supper.

On the 25th, lunch always takes place with the family and this time, it consists of meat, often roasted game, and the 13 desserts that will not leave the table for 3 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 will add in the nativity the 3 Wise Men from the East, and we will taste the Kings’ cake, a brioche crown decorated with green and red candied fruits. The youngest child slips under the table and says “for whom? for granny, for uncle …” and whoever finds the bean or the small figurine will be named the queen or the king, he or she will have to wear his or her crown proudly. Kings’ cakes 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 mass is held in the crypt and blessed by the Archbishop of the Four des navettes (Oldest bakery of Marseille located next to the Saint Victor Abbey). The Navette is a dry cookie flavored with orange blossom whose shape reminds us of the boat that brought the saints to the shores 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 next year!

*Oldest bakery of Marseille located next to the Saint Victor Abbey.

Our suggestions