The 13 desserts of Christmas

A Provençal tradition rooted in families

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 custom by gathering families around many delicacies at the end of the Great supper.

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 to the religion very present in Provence: Christ having taken his last meal with his 12 apostles before being crucified, there are thus 12 desserts for the latter and 1 for the Christ. These thirteen desserts must be arranged on 3 tablecloths, in the middle of 3 candles (or candleholders), as well as 3 cups of the wheat of Saint Barbara (symbol of the Trinity). They are eaten after the midnight mass and will remain on the table for the 3 days following the big dinner.

 

Here we unveil the real list of the 13 desserts…

Originally, they were only composed of 12 loaves of bread and a large loaf marked with a cross. Today, among these desserts, we include :

  • La pompe à l’huile (olive oil pump dessert)  “pòmpa a l’òli” in provençal dialect;
  • The white nougat, the black nougat which represent good and evil respectively, according to some people.
  • The date palms, whose oval shape of the pit represents the symbol of Christ;
  • The four “beggars”; dried figs, raisins, almonds and hazelnuts which represent the orders of Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Augustinians;
  • The green melon, preserved on straws (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 . Everything is drizzled with a cooked wine for the desserts and a choice of seven locally produced wines for the rest of the meal.

 

Not surprisingly, the Christmas log is not found in the tradition of the Big Dinner. 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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