The 4th of December, Sainte-Barbe, marks the beginning of Christmas in Provence known as Calendale (from the Provençal word Calèndo meaning Christmas). This is a festive period that runs from 4th December to Chandeleur on 2nd February. Traditional Christmas celebrations last almost two months here. I don’t mean cheesy piped music in shopping centres and Santa’s grottoes or even pretty sparkly lights starting in November or earlier, I mean traditions dating back to Roman times.
So how is Ste-Barbe, the beginning of Christmas in Provence, 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 24th, 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.
Image credit here and in the pinable image below from Dans la Bulle de Manou
In the run-up to December it’s common to see little packets of wheat being sold for charity or handed out free at boulangeries. Now you know what they’re for!
True traditionalists grow 3 pots of wheat to represent the Holy Trinity. On the 24th the germinated wheat is tied up with a red ribbon and used to decorate the table for the Gros Souper on Christmas Eve. The next day it is left on the table during the main meal at lunchtime and then placed in the crèche among the santons to symbolise fields.
When my boys were much younger, back in Primary school days, they’d come out of school bearing saucers of lentil shoots on the last day of term before Christmas. I must admit I had no idea at all what they were the first time it happened, having cress sandwiches in mind rather than seasonal celebrations! Not all kids had healthy-looking shoots, but luckily for us our always survived until Christmas, theoretically bringing us good luck.
Do you have any unusual traditions relating to the start of the festive season where you are? Please share them in the comments.
Christmas Traditions in Provence – Santons
Lucéram, the Christmas Village
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This post was originally published in December 2012 and has been updated for 2021.
I love the fact that in France Christmas is so much less commercialised than in the UK. I wonder how much of your Provençal traditions have pagan roots? They certainly sit well with my green way of living.
Thank you for adding this post to #GoingGreen and enjoy your 11th Calendale!
I think a great many have Pagan roots and are definitely much more sustainable/green than most of the things we do these days in the developed world to “celebrate” Christmas
I must admit I have found Provence before Christmas to be a lovely respite from the over the top commercial assault we have at home – I love the tradition with the wheat – how simple. Looking forward even more now to heading over next weekend for a few days break before we hurtle headlong into Christmas here
I agree, Christmas is definitely less commercial in France and for the most part I prefer it like that.
It’s traditional to add the sprouts to your Christmas table as a decoration! Some add them to their Crêche scenes as well. I haven’t dared to try growing any as I seem to kill anything green and really don’t want the bad luck!
Ha ha GGG, I think you’re best off avoiding growing any if you think it won’t work! I know people add the wheat to their gros souper table but I hadn’t heard of it decorating crèches.
I really like the sound of this tradition and how lucky you are to celebrate for so long! It’s lovely to hear of different traditions all over the world. It’s one of the reasons travelling is such a special part of life.
In reality nothing happens between Epiphanie and Chandeleur (6 Jan and 2 Feb) so “celebrating” for 2 months is a tiny exaggeration, though traditionally the Christmas season does last that long.
What an amazing tradition! Almost 2 months? I wish!
Planting is such a nice idea for a tradition!
In reality it isn’t exactly 2 months of fun fun fun!!
I hadn’t come across this tradition before but what a lovely idea – and as you say, so much nice to go back to the origins and roots of the celebrations, rather than the frantic shopping which seems to mark it now. I never feel I can really start thinking about Christmas until December, even if people always seem to be planning weeks before me! #allaboutfrance
Sometimes it depresses me so much how much Christmas is just about shopping. Traditions like this bring you back to earth (literally!)
This is such an interesting tradition! It reminds me of Groundhog Day! 😀 These Bavarians are so far just really into their advent calendars, so we’ll see what other traditions pop up as we go!
It’ll be interesting to find out what else Bavarians are in to, the Advent Calendars sounds good.
I just moved to Maussane-les-Alpilles and my neighbour gave me a pack of these seeds as a welcome gift. I think it’s a lovely gesture so I’m really going to have to try hard to make these grow healthy and well for this holiday season! Wish me luck!
I hope you grow strong straight shoots of wheat Ashley, good luck!
I first learned of the traditions of Provence and Saint Barabara during a visit there last December. I found many of the Provencal Christmas traditions, like the planting of the seeds, to be so interesting.
I’m happy you enjoyed learning about Provencal traditions Catherine, Christmas is an interesting time to visit another country I think.
An interesting use of wheat.
Isn’t it unusual Richard
I really like this tradition, it’s good to have ones that are not commercial and link us to mother earth.
Yes I agree, even though I’m not religious I think you’ve hit the nail on the head…the link with nature is lovely.
What a brilliant tradition. I’m sure the lentils will be as straight as straight can be and good fortune will come flooding in throughout 2013, starting in Knaresborough!
Thanks Rin! Did you plant some too?