The 13 desserts of Christmas

A Provençal tradition rooted in families

The thirteen desserts of Christmas are a well known tradition of the people living in Provence, who every year renew this ancestral and convivial tradition by gathering families around delicacies at the end of the ‘Great supper’ (Christmas dinner).

Published on 30 November 2020

A bit of history

This tradition, which first started in 1925, consists of serving 13 desserts or calenos at the end of the big Christmas dinner. But why not 12 or 14 of them?

It is in fact a reference a religious reference, as religion is a core value in Provence: Christ having taken his ‘last supper’ with his 12 apostles before being crucified, 12 desserts for the latter and one for Christ. These thirteen desserts must be arranged on three tablecloths, in surrounded by three candles (or candleholders), and three cups holding sprouted wheat of Saint Barbara (symbol of the Trinity). The desserts are eaten after the midnight mass and will remain on the table for the three days following the ‘Great supper’.

Here reveal th 13 desserts bellow…

Originally, they only consisted of 12 loaves of bread and an additional large one marked with a cross. Today, among these desserts, we include :

  • La pompe à l’huile (olive oil based type of brioche)  “pòmpa a l’òli” in provençal dialect;
  • The white and the black nougat which represent good and evil respectively, according to some people.
  • The date palms, whose oval shaped pit is the symbol of Christ;
  • The ‘quatre mendiants’ (four beggars); dried figs, raisins, almonds and hazelnuts which represent the orders of Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Augustinians;
  • The green melon, stored on straw (the verdaù);
  • The “Picon” of Marseille, an apéritif made of oranges
  • The white grape, kept hanging at the bottom of the cellar for preservation

Depending on the location and local resources, it is supplemented with prunes, walnuts, apples, pears, tangerines, watermelon jam or quince paste . All the desserts are complemented by a cooked wine and the rest of the meal by seven locally produced wines.

 

Unsurprisingly, the traditional Christmas dessert ‘la bûche de noël’ (shaped like a log) is not part of the ‘Great supper’ traditions. It was added only recently, even if it seems to perpetuate the custom of cachio fio (Yule Log). At that time, the Christmas evening started with the tradition of having the elder (Grandfather) burn a large log of olive or fruit tree and bless the fire. He would sprinkle the cooked wine and then say :

E se sian pas maï“, And, if we are not more,
Que siegen pas mens!Let us not be less!

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