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Welcome to Christmas in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur

How about treating yourself to an authentic Christmas this year? A Christmas that soothes the senses and lets the mind marvel, a Christmas that invites
you to slow down and renew ties with your loved ones… Welcome to 60 days of happiness!


Published on 25 October 2023

Saint Barbara's day, 4th December

December 4th marks the start of the Christmas preparations:
it’s the day when the “Wheat of Hope” is sown. How about making your own terracotta dish for Saint Barbara’s wheat? Our potters, earthenware makers and ceramists will be delighted to welcome you for a course or introductory class.
After all, the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region is a genuine capital of clay. And as the Provencal proverb goes: “A pot for the kitchen, a pitcher for water and a basket for the garden are all you need to eat”! Aubagne and the Pays de l’Etoile area, Salernes (Terra Rossa museum) and Vallauris (Ceramics museum) are local hubs of clay working. What’s more, Moustiers-Sainte-Marie has been an ambassador of earthenware since the 17th century. Numerous workshops invite you to admire our potters and ceramists hard at work turning, shaping, moulding, baking, varnishing, enamelling and decorating… Another fabulous gift idea!


In Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, many homes welcome a miniature family at Christmas – aka the crib scene! Calling all amateur artists! At the local santon fairs, you’ll find ready-to-paint figurines made with natural terracotta. Marseille’s Vieux-Port (Old Port) has hosted one every winter for the last 220 years! Numerous other towns have now followed suit: Aubagne, Fontvieille, Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Caderousse, Carpentras, Forcalquier Montagne de Lure, Antibes, Cagnes, Carqueiranne, Grimaud, Théoule-sur-Mer, Ollioules, Signes and Mouans-Sartoux, to name but a few. And our crib scenes get bigger every year! We hunt down new santons at the local Christmas markets and workshops, where visitors are sometimes invited to watch the figurines being made, from modelling the plaster mould to the final brushstrokes. The variety of models on offer is impressive, with new characters created every year.


One of the highlights of the Christmas festivities, the “big supper” (gros souper, or gros soupa in Provencal dialect), also known as the “lean meal” (repas maigre), is enjoyed with family or friends on December 24th.

Served on a table adorned with holly, and the wheat and lentils sown on Saint Barbara’s Day, the gros souper on Christmas Eve traditionally kicks off with an aïgo boulido – a fragrant broth made with garlic, sage and thyme -, followed by seven meat-free dishes (although turkey is increasingly found on today’s menu), such as cod with leeks, squash gratin and truffle omelette. The tasty treats also include local specialities such as poutargue (bottarga) from Martigues, Rove cottage cheese or cheeses from the Alps. And no Provencal Christmas feast would be complete without an array of aperitifs and liqueurs made with regional plants and fruit. Almonds, hazelnuts, nougats and countless variations on the thirteen desserts await hungry church-goers on their return from Midnight Mass.


Winding up Christmas Eve with thirteen shades of sweetness after midnight mass is an age-old tradition in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.
It originates from the – still popular – custom of Midnight Mass.

The number 13 refers to Jesus and the 12 apostles, while the four traditional dried fruits represent different religious orders.

It’s time to dig into a feast of black and white nougat, dried fruit nicknamed the “four beggars”, pompe à l’huile olive oil brioche scented with orange flower water, and fresh fruit such as apples, pears, green melon and grapes. Dates are served as a reminder of the flight of Joseph, Mary and Baby Jesus to Egypt. You’ll find tangerines or oranges too, together with various confectionery including fruit jellies and chocolates. Last but not least, the Christmas log pays tribute to the cacho fio – the log that was burned in days gone by to celebrate the New Year.


In Greek, the word epiphany means “unveiling” or “appearance”. Balthasar, Melchior and Gaspar…The Three Kings who came from the East and were guided to Jesus’ stable in Bethlehem by a star, bearing gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense. In Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, people traditionally celebrate Epiphany with the Gateau des Rois (Kings’ Cake): a crown-shaped brioche decorated with crystallized cherries, angelica and melon.  The Gateau des Rois (Kings’ Cake) is cut into slices, one for each guest plus the “good Lord’s share”, traditionally put aside should a poor person come to the house asking for food.  The person who gets the broad bean or little earthenware figurine in their slice is named “King” or “Queen” – and is in charge of offering next year’s cake!

Candied fruit and especially the bright red crystallized cherries used to adorn the Gateau des Rois (Kings’ Cake), often originate from Apt. An official “Remarkable Site for Taste”, the capital of the Luberon is
also that of candied fruit.


In Marseille and Provence – and nowhere else in France – navettes are traditionally savoured on Candlemas. These little boat-shaped biscuits flavoured with orange flower water symbolize the boat in which the three Saints – Mary Magdalene, Mary Jacobe and Mary Salome – ran aground on the shores of Provence. The people of Marseille get up extra-early on February 2nd for the procession of the Black Virgin, starting out from the Old Port at 5 am, and the blessing of the city’s typical navette biscuits by the bishop.

And of course, we also love pancakes or crepes as we like to call them: as round and golden as our beloved sunshine! If you want to ensure your Candlemas crepes are unforgettable, simply top them with lavender honey, homemade fig or apricot jam, or Collobrières chestnut cream.