Création de santons

The santons of Provence and the santonniers du Var .

Emblems of Provence, the santons are the soul of the cot. Every year, we impatiently wait to take them out of the boxes and create our own little nativity scene. Every year, enthusiasts enlarge the little Provencal village with a new creation, a little house, the wash house, the mill or the baker's oven. Who doesn't have a favourite santon ? Each santon of Provence has its own notoriety : the angel Boufaréu, the shepherd, the tambourine-player, but the most endearing and the most emblematic is certainly lou ravi with his arms in the air ! Here we have even made a nice expression to designate someone a little naive and joyful: "it looks like lou ravi de la crèche"! So don't hesitate to buy your own little santon from Provence from one of the santon makers in the Var!

The history of the santons of Provence .

Legend has it that in the 13th century, Saint Francis of Assisi created the first living cot in a cave in Greccio, Italy, in order to spend Christmas night in prayer with the faithful. This is how the concept of the living cot came about….

The 14th century marked the introduction of the use of cots in Provence. Some santons are sculpted in wood, the oldest of which are in the Basilica of Saint-Maximin.

From the 15th century onwards, the tradition of the nativity scene spread to the churches. Characters representative of the community joined the Holy Family, the donkey and the ox, the shepherds and the Magi.

It was at the time of the French Revolution in the 19th century that the cot appeared in homes. As the churches were closed and midnight mass was abolished, the people of Provence had the idea of making or buying “santouns” (“little saints” in Provençal) to make the cot at home. This was the beginning of the santonnier craft. Today, they are called Santons, and they are a speciality of Provence !

Today, the family cot represents the typical Provencal village and the surrounding countryside, where the birth of Jesus Christ is recreated in contemporary Provence.

How to make the santons of Provence ?

The first santons were made by the Provençal people using a material available to everyone : breadcrumbs. Then it was the red clay of Provence that was preferred for the manufacture. After the Bouches du Rhône and the Vaucluse, it is in the Var that we find the highest concentration of santonniers.

The making of the santons is done in 7 steps:

  • Making a model in raw clay
  • Making the mould cast in plaster
  • Moulding by pressing a piece of clay into one half of the mould
  • Pressing of the 2 parts, trimming of the surplus
  • Removing the mould and drying the santon
  • Firing the santon
  • Hand decoration of the santon

The characters of the Provençal cot .

The santons are the small characters of the cot. They are the inhabitants of the Provençal “country”, of Mediterranean type, and they wear the costume of their region.

In addition to the baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the donkey, the ox and the angel Boufaréu, there are :

  • Representatives of all the trades : the shepherd, the miller, the baker, the fishmonger, the grinder, the ragpicker, the seamstress…
  • The offering bearers : the fisherman, the hunter, the gardener, the woman with the jar, the old woman or man with the bundle, the woman with the goat…
  • Notables, artists and other workers : the mayor, the priest, the monk, the olive picker, the sower, the musicians, the dancers…
  • Characters from the pastorals : Pistachié, the Ravi, the three old men, the blind man and his son, the gypsies…
  • Animals : sheep, sheepdogs, donkeys, all farm animals, camels, dromedaries…. Snakes and wild animals have no place in the cot.

The Christmas cot and the santons of Provence represent the life of a whole village, with all its diversity and richness. The professions and characters being almost infinite, you can enlarge your cot each year and add new characters!

You will of course find the traditional santons of Provence, but also, according to the imagination of the santon makers of the Var, new characters such as the petanque player, the pizza maker, Fernandel, the gendarme of Saint-Tropez, the beekeeper, or the pink flamingos!


The traditional santons , small local stars

Some santons are part of the tradition. Here is the list:


 The angel Boufaréu, also called the angel blower. He holds a trumpet and guides the shepherds to the cot.

The shepherds, biblical characters, are the first to arrive at the nativity scene.

The donkey and the ox look at the newborn and warm him.

Lou Pistachié is a farmhand.

The ravi, called Lou Ravi in Provençal, is the village idiot and brings good luck.

The monk is Saint Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of santonniers.

The tambourinaïre, nicknamed Guillaume, leads the farandole with his tambourine and his galoubet.

The Three Wise Men : Melchior, Gaspard and Balthazar respectively bring gold, incense and myrrh as offerings and arrive in front of the stable on 6 January during the Epiphany. It is normally at this time that they are put in the cot, a cot that is kept until Candlemas!

The santons of Provence are a great tradition of the region. Today, there are still many santon makers in the Var. Do not hesitate to visit their workshop to discover their incredible work!

Santons de Provence et santonniers du Var

Santons de Provence et santonniers du Var