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Sainte-Barbe, the beginning of Christmas in Provence

Today marks the beginning of Calendale in Provence, the Christmas festive period that runs from 4th December to Chandeleur on 2nd February.  Christmas celebrations last almost two months here, aren't we lucky?  But I don't mean cheesy piped music in shopping centres and Santa's grottoes or even pretty sparkly lights, I mean traditional stuff, with a history, and this makes me feel I can officially start getting into the festive spirit.  I feel justified that I'm not just pandering to the rampant commercial circus that Christmas has become in many parts of the world but celebrating something more significant that doesn't revolve around spending money. The word Calendale comes from the Provençal word Calèndo meaning Christmas and today is the feast day of Saint Barbe (St Barbara).

Blé de Ste Barbe Calendale décembre Provence

So how is Ste-Barbe celebrated?  By planting wheat or lentils in little saucers on a bed of cotton wool. This symbolises the future harvest so if the wheat grows straight and green by the 25th, the coming year will be a prosperous one.  If it flops or turns yellow things aren't looking so good! There's a saying in Provençal "quand lou blad vèn bèn, tout vèn bèn" when the wheat grows well, everything goes well.  The germinated wheat is then tied up with a red ribbon and used to decorate the table for the Gros Souper on Christmas Eve.

This will be our sixth Christmas in Provence and every year my boys have come out of school bearing saucers of healthy-looking lentil shoots on the last day of school term.  I must admit to having no idea at all what they were for the first time round, having cress sandwiches in mind rather than seasonal celebrations but I'm more culturally aware now.  I hope this year's crop is upright and healthy and that our good fortune continues, and with that in mind I think I'll go and put on some cheesy Christmas music to celebrate the start of Calendale!

***UPDATE 2015*** We are now about to celebrate our 9th Christmas in Provence and all is stilll well!  Do you have any unusual traditions relating to the start of the festive season where you are? Please share them in the comments.


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Christmas traditions in Provence Ste Barbe



A Green and Rosie Life


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  • Guest
    Rosie @A Green and Rosie Life Monday, 18 December 2017

    I love the fact that in France Christmas is so much less commercialised than in the UK. I wonder how much of your Provençal traditions have pagan roots? They certainly sit well with my green way of living.
    Thank you for adding this post to #GoingGreen and enjoy your 11th Calendale!

  • vauclusedreamer
    vauclusedreamer Friday, 11 December 2015

    I must admit I have found Provence before Christmas to be a lovely respite from the over the top commercial assault we have at home - I love the tradition with the wheat - how simple. Looking forward even more now to heading over next weekend for a few days break before we hurtle headlong into Christmas here

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 11 December 2015

    I agree, Christmas is definitely less commercial in France and for the most part I prefer it like that.

  • Guest
    Girl Gone Gallic Saturday, 05 December 2015

    It's traditional to add the sprouts to your Christmas table as a decoration! Some add them to their Crêche scenes as well. I haven't dared to try growing any as I seem to kill anything green and really don't want the bad luck!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 11 December 2015

    Ha ha GGG, I think you're best off avoiding growing any if you think it won't work! I know people add the wheat to their gros souper table but I hadn't heard of it decorating crèches.

  • Guest

    I really like the sound of this tradition and how lucky you are to celebrate for so long! It's lovely to hear of different traditions all over the world. It's one of the reasons travelling is such a special part of life.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 11 December 2015

    In reality nothing happens between Epiphanie and Chandeleur (6 Jan and 2 Feb) so "celebrating" for 2 months is a tiny exaggeration, though traditionally the Christmas season does last that long.

  • Guest
    Packing my Suitcase Friday, 04 December 2015

    What an amazing tradition! Almost 2 months? I wish!
    Planting is such a nice idea for a tradition!

  • Guest
    Cathy (MummyTravels) Thursday, 03 December 2015

    I hadn't come across this tradition before but what a lovely idea - and as you say, so much nice to go back to the origins and roots of the celebrations, rather than the frantic shopping which seems to mark it now. I never feel I can really start thinking about Christmas until December, even if people always seem to be planning weeks before me! #allaboutfrance

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 11 December 2015

    Sometimes it depresses me so much how much Christmas is just about shopping. Traditions like this bring you back to earth (literally!)

  • Guest
    Christy Swagerty Thursday, 03 December 2015

    This is such an interesting tradition! It reminds me of Groundhog Day! :D These Bavarians are so far just really into their advent calendars, so we'll see what other traditions pop up as we go!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 11 December 2015

    It'll be interesting to find out what else Bavarians are in to, the Advent Calendars sounds good.

  • Guest
    Ashley Thursday, 03 December 2015

    I just moved to Maussane-les-Alpilles and my neighbour gave me a pack of these seeds as a welcome gift. I think it's a lovely gesture so I'm really going to have to try hard to make these grow healthy and well for this holiday season! Wish me luck!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 11 December 2015

    I hope you grow strong straight shoots of wheat Ashley, good luck!

  • Guest
    Catherine Sweeney Thursday, 03 December 2015

    I first learned of the traditions of Provence and Saint Barabara during a visit there last December. I found many of the Provencal Christmas traditions, like the planting of the seeds, to be so interesting.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Friday, 11 December 2015

    I'm happy you enjoyed learning about Provencal traditions Catherine, Christmas is an interesting time to visit another country I think.

  • Richard
    Richard Wednesday, 26 December 2012

    An interesting use of wheat.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 27 December 2012

    Isn't it unusual Richard?

  • Mags
    Mags Friday, 14 December 2012

    I really like this tradition, it's good to have ones that are not commercial and link us to mother earth.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Saturday, 15 December 2012

    Yes I agree, even though I'm not religious I think you've hit the nail on the head...the link with nature is lovely.

  • Guest
    Rin Tuesday, 04 December 2012

    What a brilliant tradition. I'm sure the lentils will be as straight as straight can be and good fortune will come flooding in throughout 2013, starting in Knaresborough!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 06 December 2012

    Thanks Rin! Did you plant some too?

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