Windows on Provence
Christmas in Provence really begins on 4th December, St. Barbe's Day, when wheatgerm is planted in three saucers covered with damp cotton wool. (Small packets of wheatgerm are sold in almost all bakery shops and the proceeds go to charity). If the stalks grow straight and green, the coming year will be prosperous. These miniature wheat fields will afterwards be placed in the family crib.
To prepare the Christmas crib, there are numerous santons markets organised throughout the Provence region from mid-November on.They represent the inhabitants of the village visiting the Christmas crib: pétanque players, fishmongers, doctors, bakers, shepherds, etc. In Provence, the traditional crib is in fact an ideal model of a provençal village and its inhabitants.
The "great supper" is eaten on Christmas Eve, before going to midnight mass. Everything is minutely prepared. Each dish has its own symbolism and numbers are important.
The table has 3 white tablecloths -for the 3 members of the Trinity – with 3 candelabras and 3 saucers of sprouted wheat germs planted on St. Barbe's Day. The meal is paradoxically made up of 7 lean dishes in memory of the 7 sufferings of Mary. It is served with 13 bread rolls followed by the 13 desserts, which represent the Last Supper and each of which has its own symbolism. These include dates (the symbol of Christ who came from the Orient) and nougat (black and white) white nougat, soft and creamy represents purity and goodness, the harder and brittle black variety representing impurity and forces of evil.