Still today, even more than a Christmas tree, many French families set up a crèche. More or less elaborate, most often with small ceramic “santons” depicting the usual Mary, Joseph and baby jesus…who is always hidden away and taken out to the delight of the little children on christmas eve. The best part of the traditional “crèche provencale” is that it includes not only shepherds guarding their flocks but all the different tradesmen and characters from life the villages of Provence in the early 1800 when the first “santons” where made in Marseille.
Every year now I take out my collection of antique religious books and use them as the decor to suggest the landscape and grotto for my crèche that grows with added “santons” each year. Over the years our grandchildren gave us a santons representing two grandparents sitting on a little bench and a blacksmith at his forge and a friend gave us a wonderful “paysan” and his wife pulling guiding their horse and a cart of hay….
There are of course the three wise men and their camel that arrive on the 6th of January when everyone share the “galette des rois”: depending on what area you live in, it is either a sugar sprinkeled brioche or an “pate feuilleté” filled with almond paste and pastry cream…and always a small favor hidden inside that proclames the finder ROI or REINE for the day…and that goes on all throughout the month of January.