Santons and nativity scenes, Christmas lights and sparkling eyes, lively markets and refined tables, wonderful traditions and sublime creations... It’s Christmas Time in Vaucluse!
Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells…
Do you remember Christmas as a child? Aah, is this a smile on your face that I can see, and stars in your eyes? The magic of Christmas is still working! Come and rediscover your child’s heart and share with your family or friends the Christmas holiday season in Provence.
The “santonnier” is a very special craftsman to the Provençal people: he makes and paints little clay characters. The locals use them to recreate a nativity scene in the house.
Fields of olive trees and lavender, a village where a fountain flows, streams where sheep go to drink represent up to the tiniest detail of the daily life of yesteryear in Provence.
The decoration is more real than nature. The nativity scene of Avignon in the Corps Saints chapel is impressive for its size and its decorations. The one set in the Carpentras Tourism Office is just as impressive.
Large clothed figurines of wax are set up in the Cathedral of Avignon and there are many other nativity scenes to discover in our “What’s On” section.
Lou Ravi, the first santon to be placed in the nativity scene or on a window ledge, is said to bring good luck. Always with his arms lifted towards heaven with rapture, he embodies joy and simplicity. The villagers follow him to the nativity scene. His companions all practise a trade or a different role drawn from the folklore and traditions of Provence. Lou Pistachié, a big farm-boy pulling a donkey loaded with sacks of wheat, the fishmonger, the farm hands carrying lanterns, the baker and his basket of “fougasse” bread, the garlic merchant… The baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph welcome all the visitors. As for the wise men, after a long and dangerous journey, they arrive on January 6…
Several santonniers share this know-how in Vaucluse: Sylvie Roverch and Patricia and Pascal Lacour in Bollène, Sophie Auzet in Isle sur la Sorgue, Pascale Mestre in St Saturnin les Apt, Mr et Mme Lambert in Carpentras, Mme De Oliveira in Jonquerettes, Catherine Vandevyvere - «Brin d'Argile» in Pernes les Fontaines, Véronique Dornier in Brantes, Magali Mille-Montagard in Saumane en Vaucluse, Muriel Jermer in Grillon, Cécile Clémente in Monteux, Béatrice Marguerat and Daniel Galli in Le Beaucet, Denis Vœux in Séguret.
Light, the source of life and joy
In the bastides and mas -the old farmhouses- of Provence, an ancient ceremony is held that is both religious and pagan, that of the Cacho-fio, or the Yule log. On Christmas night, the youngest and the oldest members of the family together place on the hearth a large log from a fruit tree (cherry, olive or pear tree). Symbolising the Trinity, they walk three times around the table that is covered with three cloths. This log, after a libation is poured on it and a prayer is said, was to provide warmth and light for the household for three days. During the Christmas season, light fills the towns and villages. The streets come alive with illuminated fantasy characters. Colourful garlands deck the streets and trees. Behind these decorations that light up our homes and our towns is a company known around the world for its creations, the Blachère Company established in Apt in the heart of the Luberon area.
All these treats symbolising the Last Supper end the Christmas Eve meal: black and white nougat, “fougasse” flat bread, made with olive oil, candied fruit, dates, mandarin oranges, the « 4 mendicants » – walnuts, almonds, dried figs and hazelnuts that represent the 4 major religious orders, grapes, apples and plums.
Then it’s time to leave for the Midnight Mass; before leaving, according to tradition, the 4 corners of the tablecloth must be lifted to prevent bad spirits from spoiling the table.
Black nougat is one of the essential 13 desserts. You won’t be able to resist this crunchy burst of honey and almond when you “break” the bar of home-made nougat!
Here is a recipe for black nougat that’s easy to make.
For 6 people : 250 g of almonds, 250 g of honey, 2 pieces of unleavened bread
- Cover the bottom of a rectangular dish (0.5 L) with a piece of unleavened bread.
- Place the almonds in an oven for 5 min. at 220°C to dry and heat them without roasting.
- Bring the honey to the boil while stirring with a wooden spoon. Put all the almonds into the boiling honey and cook them while stirring regularly until the honey turns a brown colour and start to crack with the heat of the honey.
- Take the prepared honey and almonds off the heat and slowly pour into the dish. Firmly pack down the almonds with the back of a spoon.
- Place one or 2 rectangles of unleavened bread on the nougat and let it chill under a weight.
Everything seems to be nicer and more fun during the Christmas season. Shop windows receive special attention. Children gaze with wonder at the Christmas decorations. It’s time to go shopping to find the perfect gift, quality products to indulge your guests, new decorations for the table and the Christmas tree and a new santon for the nativity scene, true to tradition.