“GROS SOUPER” SUPPER
The “Gros Souper“, served just after the “cacho-fio” ritual, is a simple meal that nevertheless obeys the strictest protocols. The table – the centrepiece of the room – is decorated with little sprigs of holly, Saint Barbara’s wheat and, sometimes, roses of Jericho. Special Christmas bread (pain calendal) is placed at the centre of the table.
The table is laid with three “white tablecloths” placed one on top of the other and three candles, evoking the Holy Trinity. The 13 rolls of bread served with the meal refer to the Last Supper of Jesus and the 12 apostles, as do the 13 desserts, still very popular today.
The dishes may be served all at once along with wine as a sign of abundance and to fill the table. As Christmas is also a celebration of charity, an extra place, referred to as the “poor man’s plate”, is set for unexpected visitors. This place is said to be for the souls of the family’s departed, who are also invited to take part in the festivities.
Seven simple dishes are prepared in reminder of the “7 wounds of Christ“. Christmas Eve demands abstinence from meat, so the meal is plain but plentiful. This abundance is considered as heralding a prosperous future. As each village has one or two of its own traditional dishes, the Christmas meal can take many forms.
Although there isn’t a “set” menu, you will find common themes according to the region. Generally, the Christmas Eve supper honours local produce, hence you’ll find a combination of land and sea dishes in Provence.
Fresh seafood (eels, tuna, bream, cod, etc.) is obviously served in coastal towns and villages, while vegetables are given pride of place in inland areas of Provence (baked spinach with garlic and parsley in Apt, chard, raw celery with an anchovy dip, blanched leeks, baked pumpkin topped with cheese, etc.). Typical dishes in mountain areas include “crozets” (small pasta squares) and pasta strips, also referred to as “crouiches” or “crouizes”.
This abundance of food contrasts sharply with everyday eating habits in Provence, although the dishes remain essentially fuss-free.