The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

Christmas Traditions in Provence

Christmas in Provence is full of traditions both ancient and new, religious and secular, making it a fascinating and fun time to visit this part of France.  Provence is such a popular summertime destination that it might come as a surprise to find out that it’s also wonderful in winter.  With mild temperatures, plenty of sunshine and so much going on, spending Christmas in Provence is truly memorable.

Here are some of the traditions you’ll find at Christmas in Provence.

Christmas Traditions in Provence
Sainte Barbe

Kicking everything off is the feast day of Saint Barbara (Sainte Barbe) on the 4th of December which marks the beginning of Calendale (from the Provençal word Calèndo meaning Christmas).  This is celebrated by planting wheat or lentils in a little saucer, symbolising the future harvest.  If the wheat grows straight and green by the 25th, the coming year will be a prosperous one.  If it flops or turns yellow things aren't looking so good! There's a saying in Provençal "quand lou blad vèn bèn, tout vèn bèn" when the wheat grows well, everything goes well.  Read more about Ste Barbe here.

Blé de Ste Barbe Calendale décembre Provence


Santons and Nativity Crèches

Most villages and towns create a Nativity scene, sometimes with live animals, either in a church or central square.  While this is fairly standard throughout France what is original to Provence is the detail in the scene, created using Santons – clay figurines.  These Santons depict anything and everything from the traditional cast of the Nativity to village characters such as farmers, shop keepers, animals and much more.  Whole village scenes are laid out with rivers, trees, bridges and buildings complementing the figures.  Read about the history of Santons and some of the more original and unique characters here.

Santons of Provence in Lucéram

Christmas Markets

Almost every town and village will have a Christmas market at some stage from late November to New Year, but usually just for a day.  The big towns and cities, however, have larger markets that last throughout the month of December and often include a skating rink, perhaps a big wheel, definitely plenty of Provencal delicacies and lots of vin chaud.  Wandering around these markets in the sunshine is in my opinion far preferable to the sleet and rain that accompanies many traditional markets further north.  A recent addition to the Christmas markets in towns has been the proliferation of markets in vineyards which is a uniquely Provencal touch to the Christmas season.  Read more about markets among the vines here and my favourite small village market here.

christmas market Provence France


Christmas Swim

Many towns on the coast have festive ice-breaker swims during the month of December when participants dress in Santa hats and dive into the sea.  Luckily the sea is a “reasonable” 14-15°c and the sun is usually shining.  Even if you don’t want to actually take part, watching one of these “bains de noël” is always fun and festive.  

Christmas swim December 2016 

Christmas Decorations

The municipal Christmas decorations throughout towns and villages in Provence are usually up during December and January, and are nearly always tasteful and understated rather than glaring and tacky.  Nice, Monaco, Cannes, Antibes and Grasse always look lovely at Christmas but the most unique place to visit during this time has got to be the hilltop village of Lucéram, known for its hundreds of Nativity scenes.  Find out more about this festival village here.

Nice christmas decorations

 Christmas Eve: Le Gros Souper, 13 Dessserts, Cacho Fio

Christmas Eve, the 24th of December, is the most important date in the Christmas calendar when families gather to dine together. In Provence this evening is steeped in symbolism and tradition. It starts with the lighting of a log in the fireplace "le cacho fio" an ancient pagan ritual designed to bring good fortune to the household. Read more detail here.

This is followed by a "gros souper" (big supper). Despite it being called a big supper it is actually considered light "un repas maigre" often beginning with a garlic soup, followed by simple fish and vegetable dishes – 7 of them in total. This meal is eaten before midnight mass.

Table Gros Souper

photo credit

The big focus comes after mass when everyone returns to the house to feast on a traditional dessert of 13 dishes "treize desserts". Everything about this meal is symbolic, starting with the setting of the table with three tablecloths and three candlesticks to represent the Holy Trinity. The symbolism comes from a mix of pagan and Christian roots but the food itself is innately Provencal; simple, unadorned, fresh and seasonal. You may have visions of enormous rich cakes and puddings but actually the 13 different dishes are for the most part just one type of fruit or nut. Read about the 13 desserts here.

13 desserts Provence


The Month of January "Bonne Année"

In France, not specific to Provence, it is traditional to wish someone a happy new year, rather than a merry Christmas and cards are sent out throughout the month of January to this effect. It is rare to send Christmas cards in December, but it is normal to greet someone the first time you see them in January with "bonne année" right up to the last day of the month.  Read more about the etiquette of festive greetings in France here.


La Galette des Rois – Epiphany

On the 6th of January, Epiphany, the feasting continues with the ceremonial eating of a traditional pastry "la galette des rois". This is not specific to Provence, though a crown-shaped brioche "couronne des rois" or "brioche des rois" is sometimes substituted for the galette in the South. While the galette is traditionally for Epiphany, in truth it's eaten throughout much of the month of January as it's too delicious just to eat once! Find out about the ritual that goes with eating the cake here and a simple recipe to make galette des rois here.

galette et couronne des rois

Chandeleur – Pancake Day 

And finally, the Christmas – or Calendale - season comes to an end with Chandeleur on the 2nd February. Traditionally this day was associated with purification and light but nowadays it is basically a day to feast on crêpes. There are plenty of superstitions associated with chandeleur to do with the weather, the harvest and prosperity which you can read about here, but if you'd just like to find out how to make delicious French crêpes then take a look at my recipe here.

crêpes chandeleur


What do you think of the Christmas traditions in Provence. How are they similar or different to where you live?

Please Pin!

Christmas Traditions in Provence Fr 

I am linking this post up to "Christmas around the world" hosted by Multicultural Kids Blogs.  Read on to find out more about this great series and a list of other bloggers participating this year.


Christmas in Different Lands 2015 | Multicultural Kid Blogs

Welcome to our fifth annual Christmas in Different Lands series! This year each participating blogger will focus on a different country, sharing a traditional dish and more about Christmas in that country. For even more glimpses of global Christmas celebrations, see our series from previous years (2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016) plus follow our Christmas Around The World board on Pinterest.

December 1 Lisa Lewis, MD on Multicultural Kid Blogs: A Lebanese Christmas Celebration

December 4 Hispanic Mama: Ecuador

December 6 Let the Journey Begin: Germany

December 7 Lou Messugo: Provence, France

December 8 All Done Monkey: Philippines

December 11 Crafty Moms Share: Bangladesh

December 12 Raising a Trilingual Child: Italy

December 15 The Good Long Road on Multicultural Kid Blogs: Israel

December 21 Gianna the Great: Choctaw Nation

December 22 American Mom in Bordeaux: France


Celebrate Christmas Around the World Printable Pack from Multicultural Kid Blogs

Don't miss our other posts about Christmas in different lands, plus our printable pack Celebrate Christmas Around the World, on sale now!




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  • Guest
    Catherine’s Cultural Wednesdays Sunday, 31 December 2017

    What a great range of traditions, I especially like the sound of the thirteen desserts!

  • Guest
    Nell (Pigeon Pair and Me) Sunday, 10 December 2017

    I would LOVE to visit a Christmas market in a vineyard! What an exciting development. I love the idea of a warmer Christmas. Even the thought of a swim doesn't sound too daunting.

  • Guest
    Becks Saturday, 09 December 2017

    What a great round-up Phoebe of the traditions! I've never been brave enough for a Christmas swim here. My in-laws live in Cornwall and they have one there every Christmas Day, much colder than here you can imagine! I love all the Christmas markets here and the various displays, it is really quite lovely how there is a lot of tradition still rather than over-hyped consumer drivel everywhere from late October. I'm sure you'll have a lovely time in New York, hopefully your son makes a gingerbread tree in between travelling :) Happy Christmas! Becks

  • Guest
    Richard Saturday, 09 December 2017

    Phoebe, thanks very much for these appealing photos and all the really evocative descriptions of Christmas time in Provence! You've really captured the essence of the season, I think, and reminded me that some of my warmest Christmas memories are associated with our years in France. Thanks, too, for hosting #AllAboutFrance and exposing so much good writing about life and travel in France. En vous souhaitant des bonnes fêtes de fin d’année, et meilleurs vœux pour 2018, que ça serait une année de bonne santé et la réussite de vos projets pour vous et vos proches ! #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Emily Friday, 08 December 2017

    I love the 13 desserts. #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    michelle twin mum Thursday, 07 December 2017

    I love reading about the different traditions of different areas. All of the traditions of Provence sound wonderful, well except the swim! lol I've never heard of he planting of the wheat to see what the next year will hold, how interesting. Mich x

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 08 December 2017

    Funny how no one seems to want to do the swim!

  • Guest
    Maria | Passion fruit, Paws and Peonies Thursday, 07 December 2017

    This was a wonderful read - I learnt so many new things. I love the idea of lighting the log - I can introduce in that one I think. I'm not so sure I'll be dipping into the local pond on Xmas day however haha ! x #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 08 December 2017

    I'm so glad you enjoyed reading this Maria. Enjoy your log!

  • Guest
    Carolyne Thursday, 07 December 2017

    Another lovely seasonal post. Thank you Phoebe for the Provencal holiday spirit #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 08 December 2017

    Pleasure Carolyne :)

  • Guest
    Margo Lestz Thursday, 07 December 2017

    Wow, you made me miss Christmas in Provence. This year I'll be in Spain but maybe I'll discover some new holiday traditions. Thanks for a lovely post. Happy Holidays! #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 08 December 2017

    I'm sure you'll find all sorts of fun things in Spain. Feliz Navidad Margo!

  • Guest
    June de Silva Thursday, 07 December 2017

    What an interesting and informative post. I knew about some of these traditions but Sainte Barbe and Bains de Noël are new to me! Christmas in Provence sounds lovely. Having just returned to the UK, I have the impression that Christmas is far more commercialised here, unfortunately.
    Joyeux Noël!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 08 December 2017

    I agree that the commercialisation of Christmas is greater in UK, though it is creeping in here too....

  • Guest
    Lisa @Italian Kiwi Thursday, 07 December 2017

    The Saint Barb celebration is a new one for me. I need to go and get some wheat straight away! Have you done the Bain de Noel? I have never worked up the courage to even put my toe in the sea at that time of the year! LOL!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 07 December 2017

    I'm surprise your kids don't do St Barbe at school. Mine did it every year in primary. No I've never actually done the swim though last year I *almost* wished I had my costume with me as it looked quite tempting.

  • Guest
    Vanessa Couchman Thursday, 07 December 2017

    Great mind think alike! Interesting how the Provence traditions differ in some respects from those over here in SW France. And as for the Christmas can count me out of that one! #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 07 December 2017

    haha, yes great minds think alike, which is exactly how I started my comment to you too!

  • Guest
    Diane Thursday, 07 December 2017

    Oooh, a Christmas swim. Would love to do one of those. Great roundup of traditions -- always been a fan of the Christmas markets!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 07 December 2017

    It's hard not to like a good Christmas market!

  • Guest
    Harriet Springbett Thursday, 07 December 2017

    This is a great round-up to get us feeling Christmassy. I knew nothing about the Provence specialities, so thanks for being so informative. I particularly like the lentils and the swim - the water is actually the same temperature as The Channel in summer! Hope you have a wonderful time in New York, and I'm sure you'll tell us all about it next month.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 07 December 2017

    I know the water is what northerners would call perfectly acceptable so it's hardly 'ice-breaking" but for us soft southerners it still feels pretty cold!

  • Guest
    Rosie @Eco-Gites of Lenault Thursday, 07 December 2017

    I find Christmas in France so much less commercialised than in the UK and that suits me. I love the decorations that Condé-sur-Noireau has put up and will try and get a photo of them. As for a dip in the sea, my mad boys managed a Boxing Day dip in The Channel off the Normandy coast one year. I am guessing it was a bit colder than the Med but we are a hardy lot up North! #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 07 December 2017

    I reckon it would have been a LOT colder than our water! You wouldn't get me in the channel at Christmas but my boys have dipped in on the other side on occasions at Christmas with grandparents over at Camber Sands in East Sussex....;)

  • Guest
    annette @ A French Collection Thursday, 07 December 2017

    I love santons and am always on the lookout for them. Such a tradition to collect and display them. Thinking about bucket lists the bains de noël is on my list. Have a wonderful time away and see you in February. Thanks for all your hard work Phoebe over 2017 in providing this wonderful community where we bloggers, who all love France, get a chance to share our passion. Very best Christmas wishes to you and your family... Annette #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 07 December 2017

    Thanks for your appreciative words Annette, happy Christmas to you too!

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