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A Christmas in Provence.

Provence s Markets and Traditions

What better time to visit the region of Provence
than at Christmas when the enchantment of its Christmas markets and traditions abound , when its food markets overflow with festive delights and its Santons fairs help adorn the local nativity scenes.

Provence more than any other region seems to not only have safeguarded its Christmas traditions, but also knows how to put them on display and enchant us, a visit to the region now will remind the traveler of what Christmas is really all about, just a short drive from Marseille/Aix or Nice airports this is the home of winter wonderland.

Here the festive season begins on December 4th and continues for eight weeks until Candlemass, February 2nd. It s all about preparations and anticipation and if you  live in Provence then you have two important things to do on December 4th ,the Feast of Saint Barbara, first you need to plant your wheat or lentil seeds in three dishes representing the Holy Trinity, because as the Provincial saying goes “Quand lou blad vèn bèn, tout vèn bèn,” or “When the wheat grows well, everything goes well so if your seeds sprout you are in luck and a prosperous year ahead is assured.

Next you need to get those Santons arranged in your nativity crib as there is no Christmas celebration without them in Provence.  Santons in France date back to 1775 in Marseille, and are handmade, painted (or not) clay figurines of different sizes, there are the traditional religious figures , such as  the Virgin Mary, Joseph the three wise men but Nativity scenes in Provence  also have the people and artisans who would have lived and worked in an 18th and 19th century villages of the region - there is indeed a figurine for each tradesman and craftsman, the miller ,the water carrier the baker ;as  all the decorations are symbolic  you are not allowed to forget the well or the olive tree.The infant Jesus is only placed in the scene on Christmas Eve.

I try to buy one santon a year to add to the family crèche or crib and always enjoy a shopping trip to Marseille's Santon Fair which runs until December 31st 2014 where the stalls sell  literally hundreds of different santons , along with handmade decorations , gifts and antiques. The most famous Santon fair takes place in  Aubagne – Marcel Pagnol s birthplace -and is well worth the visit to help you complete your  collection.

Many santonniers are family run businesses and most French families  have a favourite ones and stick to them. My favourites are from The Escoffiers based in Aubagne . and the Aix based, Fouques 

Don’t like Christmas pudding? Try their thirteen symbolic desserts , the traditional Provence extravaganza for Christmas Eve the Lou gros soupa with mulled wine includes nuts dried fruit , fresh fruit and candied fruit

You truly can’t beat a traditional Christmas in Provence.

Monaco has a an exhibition of Nativity cribs from all over the world.

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