My Best Christmas Memories in Provence

In December, Provence changes appearance. Families are busy preparing for Christmas in the streets, decked out with lights. It’s an important celebration in this region, which leaves lasting memories.
By Anaïs Chabalier

Over the Christmas and New Year period, Mediterranean culture mixes with the Christmas spirit. The preparation of the nativity scene is its symbol. To decorate it, families go out in the woods and gather natural ingredients. A miniature field of olive trees inhabited by ‘santons,’ traditional Provencal figurines, is then recreated in the purest local tradition.

Olivier Baussan, founder of L'Occitane, still remembers ‘the odor of the moss, which carried with it the forest humus. That smell of undergrowth, earth, and pine resin then stayed in the house for a long time. It’s still present today in my heart, as a moment of happiness that accompanies the hours leading up to Christmas,’ he says.

On Christmas Eve, Midnight Mass cannot be missed. The highlight of this festive evening, it allows the locals to come together. Mandy Graillon, Queen of Arles, has not forgotten her first vigil. ‘I was amazed by the songs and costumes. It was a unique atmosphere,’ she remembers.

Next comes gluttony: it’s time to enjoy the traditional Thirteen Desserts of Provence! Every year, Helen Haon, at the head of the bed and breakfast La Parade in Arles, prepares the ‘fougasse’ focaccia and other delicacies filled with almond paste. For her, as for many other locals, to prepare these local dishes and enjoy them with all the family is ‘a way of paying tribute to the land of Provence.’

‘Well Nouvé’ (‘Merry Christmas’ in Provençal)

Olivier Baussan
Olivier Baussan
Corsica
Photography L'Occitane en Provence
Mandy Graillon
Mandy Graillon

The 22nd Queen of Arles

Photography François Xavier Emery
Hélène Haon
Hélène Haon

Hélène Haon during the midnight mass at Arles.

DR, Hélène Haon

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