Santon festival in La Cadière d'Azur

Christmas traditions in Provence and the Var .

Visit the santon fairs, go and listen to the midnight mass with the Pastorals and the Christmas carols in the little churches lost in the countryside, make good Christmas recipes, taste the 13 desserts and offer them to the guests,... Come and experience Christmas in Provence!!

The calendar festivals .

The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the calendar season, a period of reflection in preparation for Christmas.

The 4th of December, on Sainte Barbe’s Day, wheat is sown in three “seitouns” (saucers). It will be placed on the table at Christmas.

On the 13th of December, on Sainte Luce’s day, the days lengthen by a flea’s jump and lanterns and candles light up the windows of the Provençal people every evening.

On the 24th of December, the cot is prepared, the Gros Soupa is eaten, and one waits while staying awake (one wakes up!) until the midnight mass. On the way back, baby Jesus is put in the cot, one discovered his gifts and enjoy the thirteen desserts and the cooked wine. On Christmas Eve, the living cot takes place in the church. The other characters of the cot (shepherds, sheep, donkeys), paraded through the streets of the village in traditional costume.

On the 25th of December, Christmas Day, was the day of the stuffed turkey. After the meal, visits were made or received.

On the 26th of December, which used to be a public holiday, aïoli was eaten with the family.

On the 31st of December, New Year’s Eve, people used to stay up until midnight.

On New Year’s Day, we didn’t work and, above all, we didn’t have to do the laundry!

The 6th of January is the Epiphany. The three wise men have arrived, announced to the village by the galoubets and tambourines. In their honour, a brioche crown with candied fruits is eaten, with a bean hidden inside.

On the 2nd of February, Candlemas marks the end of the calendar period, 40 days after Christmas, and the cot is taken down.

More about the calendar festivals

Fête des santons

La Pastorale .

This is a Provençal tradition, during the Christmas festivities, which dates back to the 15th century. It is a real show that is performed in the streets from mid-December to the end of January, outside the churches, and which recounts the birth of the “little Jesus” in a Provençal village, with funny and colourful characters.

The pastoral is a kind of operetta with many sung passages, the texts are in Provençal (even if they are more and more said in French for the understanding of the greatest number) and the custom is to improvise throughout the show. The most famous of the pastorals, created in 1844 and still performed, is that of Antoine Maurel. Notice that, according to Paul Nougier’s study, the first “Mystery” precursor to the pastoral was performed in Draguignan in 1433. During the Christmas holidays, the pastorals most frequently performed in the Var are : the Maurel, the Audibert, and the Bellot. You can discover them, among others, in the communes of : Besse-sur-Issole, Brignoles, Cavalaire-sur-Mer, Draguignan, Hyères, La Cadière-d’Azur, La Motte, Le Muy, Le Luc-en-Provence, Le Val, Les Adrets-de-l’Estérel, Les Arcs-sur-Argens, Ollioules, Ramatuelle, Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume, Saint-Tropez…

Crèche de Noël

The creek .

Just before Christmas Eve, the children would go running up and down the hill and into the woods to collect greenery, boxwood, thyme, olive trees, pine trees, moss, holly, laurel, but also stones, pine cones, pieces of bark… which were used to “build” the family cot.

It was not made too early so that the leaves and moss would be fresh and would last until the 2nd of February, as tradition dictated that the cot would remain in place until Candlemas. These materials were used to create the setting : Provence, a well-located geographical area, a village such as one still finds in the Var. Indeed, the cot necessarily includes the country. A real cot cannot be satisfied with the stable that houses the Holy Family.

Year after year, one enlarges one’s little group of santons by going to the Provençal santon merchants or to the travelling salesmen who go around the towns and countryside before the Christmas holidays. In the past in Provence, santon makers even went into homes and made santons in exchange for food and lodging.

The four elements are represented in the cot : earth with moss, water with a stream, air with a mill and fire with a candle. The santons are then installed in this Provençal setting, with the Holy Family, the typical characters (the ravi, the Arlésienne, the miller, Roustide, Pistachié, the Boumian, the angel Boufaréu…), the animals and the Magi. The decoration of the laurel tree, which is placed above the table, as it remains green all year round, replacing the fir tree in certain traditions. It is thanks to all these elements that we obtain magnificent Provençal Christmas cots.

More information on santons of Provence and santonniers du Var

Feu de cheminée

The cacho fio .

Before the big supper, when the table was laid and the fire was lit in the fireplace, the eldest and youngest members of the family would take a log together, which had to come from a fruit tree.

They had to go around the table three times before putting it on the fire. The log was then ‘boiled’ (set on fire). When the log was placed on the fire, the grandfather or the child guided by him would pour a glass of cooked wine over it and say:

“Alégre, Alégre! Diéu nous alègre, Eme calendo tout bén ven. Diéu nous fague la graci de véire l’an que ven, E se noun sian pas mai, que noun fuguen pas mens!”,

“Joy! God gives us joy! With Christmas, everything is good. God gives us the grace to see the coming year, And if we are not more, let us not be less!


In the Provençal tradition, after the grandfather and the youngest child, the whole family drank a sip of the scented mulled wine, then went to the table.

Dîner de fêtes

The Gros soupa .

The “Gros soupa” or big supper in Provence, traditionally took place on the evening of the 24th of December and ended before midnight to allow for the midnight mass.

The table had to be beautiful and the place setting had to be kept for three days. First of all, three white tablecloths of different sizes were laid so that all of them would appear (the largest one underneath, then the medium one, then the smallest). The first tablecloth was used that evening for the big dinner, the second for Christmas Day and the third for the day after.

On the table were placed the three cups of wheat, three candles and the most beautiful dishes. One did not forget to set one more place setting than the number of guests (today’s symbolic “poor man’s” place), because one opened one’s house and table to a poor man on Christmas Eve. Then they went to the kitchen to prepare the big supper (some parts of the big supper had been prepared earlier, sometimes even several weeks in advance!)

The menu was based on local and seasonal products. The dishes were seven in number and could vary from one part of the country to another but always remained the essentials : carding, snails, cod, muge, celery, chickpeas and cheese.

There were seven wines (if possible), and cooked wine was absolutely essential.

The calendal bread was not the usual one either. It was a round loaf cut in the shape of a cross. At the beginning of the meal it was divided into three parts : one part for the poor, one part for supper and one part for the miracles.

Twelve rolls and one larger roll decorated with holly branches could also be placed on the table.

The meal ended with the thirteen desserts.

Les 13 desserts de Noël

The 13 desserts .

According to Provençal tradition, there were thirteen desserts and they could vary slightly from one part of the country to another : fig, almond, walnut, hazelnut, hanging grape, melon, apple, pear, nougat, quince paste, olive oil pump and oreillettes. The thirteen desserts were accompanied by cooked wine.

The thirteen desserts remained on the table for three days, much to the delight of the children.

See more Christmas recipes from Provence