Christmas time in Marseille

Customs rooted in families

In Provence, Christmas is a series of rites and customs perpetuated in the respect of traditions that we invite you to discover and share in the joy and good atmosphere of the holidays.

Rituals and customs in Marseille

The calendar (calendal) period starts from the 4th of december with ‘sainte barbe’ and stops on the 2nd of february, ‘ jour de la chandeleur’ (candlemas day). A lot of celebrations happen in between this  two dates everywhere in Provence.

La Sainte Barbe :

On the 4th of december , the ritual is to plant wheatseeds in three recipient with humid  cotton and will be located  in front  of the  ‘crèche’ (the nativity scene). In order to buy some little bags with wheatseeds, you need to go to many bakeries in Provence.

Nativity scene and clay figurines:

“Dans une boîte en carton sommeillent les petits santons…” (In a cardboard box, small clay figurines are sleeping) as heard in one of Tino Rossi’s songs. Little Christmas clay figurines show how the nativity scene is organized and intoduce little by little the characters involved.
More information on the clay figurines

Christmas markets :

As in the Alsace region, Provence has  many  christmas markets in different towns and villages. Local products are sold by craftsmen. Quite often, you will be able to enjoy a cup of mulled wine.

Christmas eve (La veillée ‘Calendale’). The great dinner and the 13 desserts.

A huge dinner is served at the table. Many traditions are required on that evening. The table is covered by 3 white table cloths in tribute to the trinity. Three white chandeliers are lighted and three saucers of germinated wheat from ‘ Sainte Barbe’ day. The 7 Maries’ pains are represented by 7 lean dish (fish or vegetable base). The meat is only served for the 25th .The meal ends with the 13 desserts (4 kind of nuts related to 4 orders, dates, white and black nougats, ‘ pompe à l’huile’ ( sweet olive oil brioche) candied fruits, oreillettes (very fragant  doughnuts and fresh fruits : tangerines, oranges and green melons). They remain on the table for the three following days (until the 27th of december).

More information on the 13 desserts

Midnight Mass

Provencal christmas songs enliven the villages to the sound of fifes, galoubets and tambourines.The mass is often said  in provençal. It can also involve a living nativity scene in which characters are represented by local people in costumes. Some villages such as Allauch or Fontvieille offers a shepherds’ procession. Attending to one of them, this tradition make you  discover how rich is our vernacular heritage. The religious service is often combined with a pastorale which is a play that introduces the Nativity scene. The  most famous one is the Maurel Pastorale, however they  are more versions telling the story about  christmas traditions.

‘La Chandeleur ‘ in Saint Victor abbey.

Every year, on the 2nd of february at 5 am the black virgin is carried out from the Saint Victor crypt, followed up by the faithful procession holding a green candle. From the early morning, the whole district comes alive from the  city centre ( Quai des Belges).Pilgrims go up to Saint Victor Abbey.They are about 1500 inhabitants who want to attend to the  first mass of the octave of candlemas, however the abbey is too small to welcome everyone.

The  pastorals

It is a very lively provencal tradition.Pastorals are plays reprensenting the Nativity scene.They can be in provencal or french language in  which you can see different characters such as sheperds, ‘remouleur’ and so on…

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