The 4th of December, Sainte-Barbe, marks the beginning of Christmas in Provence known as Calendale. This is a festive period that runs from 4th December to Chandeleur on 2nd February – Christmas celebrations last almost two months here, aren’t we lucky? But I don’t mean cheesy piped music in shopping centres and Santa’s grottoes or even pretty sparkly lights, I mean traditional stuff, with a history, and this makes me feel I can officially start getting into the festive spirit. I feel justified that I’m not just pandering to the rampant commercial circus that Christmas has become in many parts of the world but celebrating something more significant that doesn’t revolve around spending money. The word Calendale comes from the Provençal word Calèndo meaning Christmas and today is the feast day of Saint Barbe (St Barbara).
So how is Ste-Barbe celebrated? By planting wheat or lentils in little saucers on a bed of cotton wool. This symbolises the future harvest so 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. The germinated wheat is then tied up with a red ribbon and used to decorate the table for the Gros Souper on Christmas Eve.
This will be our sixth Christmas in Provence and every year my boys have come out of school bearing saucers of healthy-looking lentil shoots on the last day of school term. I must admit to having no idea at all what they were for the first time round, having cress sandwiches in mind rather than seasonal celebrations but I’m more culturally aware now. I hope this year’s crop is upright and healthy and that our good fortune continues, and with that in mind I think I’ll go and put on some cheesy Christmas music to celebrate the start of Calendale!
***UPDATE 2015*** We are now about to celebrate our 9th Christmas in Provence and all is still well! Do you have any unusual traditions relating to the start of the festive season where you are? Please share them in the comments.
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