Where to celebrate Christmas in Provence?

Publié le 15 December 2016 Mis à jour le 7 May 2018

Where to celebrate Christmas in Provence?

The last presents are all wrapped, the tree is decorated, the Nativity scene is ready, the St Barbara’s Day wheat is planted, the children are on holiday: now the Christmas festivities can begin! But where to celebrate Christmas in Provence? Which are the traditional festivals and events not to miss if you want to experience a real Provençal Christmas?

Celebrating Christmas in Provence means visiting the Nativity scenes in the villages of the Bouches-du-Rhône département, going to Midnight Mass, listening to a pastorale, discovering the transhumance, and playing bingo. Whether as a family, with friends, or on your own, My Provence offers you its suggestions for celebrating Christmas in Provence through the religious festivals and Provençal traditions. And to make the most of the Christmas holidays in Provence, discover our special children’s’ cultural calendar with all the Christmas activities in Provence, to keep them amused while they wait for their Christmas presents.

Play the Provençal bingo in family

In Provence, everybody plays the bingo.

Christmas Nativity scenes in Provence

One Provençal Christmas custom not to be missed is the cribs, which appeared first in churches, before coming into our homes, with their dozens of little figures: the santons. The santons or ‘santoun’ in Provençal are the key elements in the scene. They must be made of clay and represent only the characters in the Nativity or relating to Provençal folklore. In Bouches-du-Rhône you’ll be able to admire a great many cribs during your stay in Provence in December, but if we had to recommend you just one, it would have to be the animated Nativity scene by Gilbert Orsini in Allauch: over 600 dressed santons, 45 of them animated, invite you on a journey through the heart of the Provence of bygone days.

Find all the Nativity scenes in Bouches-du-Rhône here.

Midnight Mass in Provence

More than just a Mass, once again there’s a whole ritual to it: the people of the Provençal villages process to the church, just like their ancestors who walked to the stable. Once they arrive, they leave their torches and lanterns outside the church: the Christmas vigil and contemplation can now begin.

Where can you go to Midnight Mass in Bouches-du-Rhône? Find your Christmas Mass on myprovence.fr.

Discovering the cribs of Provence

Which is alive or not, discover all the cribs in Provence on myprovence.fr

Attend mass in a church in the Bouches-du-Rhône

Choir in a church of Bouches-du-Rhône during the Mass.

The ‘Shepherding’ ceremony in Provence

The ‘Shepherding’ ceremony usually takes place at the same time as the Midnight Mass, paying homage to the shepherds. The shepherds’ patron saint, ‘Lou Bayle’ in Provençal, wearing his homespun cloak and beribboned hat and holding his pilgrim’s staff, is accompanied by other shepherds, children, and young girls laden with presents. Among them is a little ‘pastre’ shepherd-boy carrying the last-born lamb, which he sets down in a cart filled with straw, ribbons, and candles. All the shepherds and shepherdesses process through the village. They then proceed right up to the altar to present the lamb as an offering to the priest and pay homage to the Baby Jesus, while the congregation sing Christmas carols.

Find out about watching a ‘Shepherding’ or transhumance ceremony in the villages of Provence by clicking here.

Pastorales in Provence

The pastorales are demonstrations of popular piety, in the form of Nativity plays given in Provençal, dating back to 1844. They evoke the walk to the stable and the devotion to the Newborn. The name ‘pastorale’ comes from the fact that the shepherds (lei pastre) are the main characters. The best-known of the pastorales is the Maurel pastorale, from the name of the man who made the pastorale into a work for popular theatre.

Find all the pastorales in Bouches-du-Rhône here.

See a transhumance

See a transhumance

Bingo in Provence

While waiting to celebrate Christmas with the family, here in Provence they like to play bingo or ‘quine’. Even if tradition has it that “you go to bingo as a family”, it’s fun with friends too. If you want to let your nearest and dearest discover the highly-charged atmosphere that prevails in bingo games in Provence and teach them to ‘bouléguer’ to make a ‘full house’, choose your date from our cultural calendar.

The Christmas holidays with the kids

Christmas means religious traditions and Christmas presents – but above all, these are the last holidays of the year where everyone can get together as a family. To keep little children and adults alike entertained during this festive fortnight, a great many shows, theatrical presentations, exhibitions, concerts, films, and workshops around Christmas are on offer in the towns of Bouches-du-Rhône.

Find all the cultural events and activities for children in our special Christmas holidays guide.

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