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)