The 12 Days Of Christmas In Provence, France And The 13 Desserts

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The lavender fields of Provence, France are just one set of elements that sets the region apart. Elegant but homey traditional Christmas activities form another collection of elements to enjoy.

Christmas Traditions You've Never Heard

Our 21st century America is full of digital equipment and becoming more digital and virtual all the time.Sometimes, we lose a sense of our natural surroundings.

In order to remain more human and regain our connection with nature, we can bring up some ancient holiday traditions from France and enjoy them alongside our digital wonders. We might even enjoy them together in different parts of the world by video conferencing via cellphone or iPhone.

Christmas Eve Dinner in Provence, France entails seven separate courses and a complete buffet table of 13 different desserts.The last dessert is historically special and associated with the community of Aix-en-Provence.

In some areas of the region, children are not permitted to have any dessert at all until they name all 13 correctly. The Tradition of the 13 Desserts is connected both to Christmas and to the Easter Season, because the number 13 represents the number of men that were present at the Last Supper.

Aix-en-Provence, France

A markerAix-en-Provence, France -
Aix-en-Provence, France
[get directions]

When 13 Is Delicious Good Luck

Interestingly, the 13 days that begin on Christmas Eve comprise the lead-up to the initial festivities of Mardi Gras that eventually culminate on Fat Tuesday. Weekly parades and parties increase to daily or nightly festivities during the week preceding Mardi Gras itself in various parts of the world. Thus, Christmas lasts right up until Mardi Gras.

Christmas Dinner, or Gros Souperas is is sometimes called, is not a time or place for the reported custom in some areas of France in which desserts are eaten first. Children spend the weeks leading up to the traditional Christmas Eve Dinner in learning the names of all of these regionally famous desserts. The desserts are not all sugar filled creations, either, but include fruits, dried fruits, and even bread and cheese.

The 13 desserts below are beginning to include newer traditions, such as the Yule Log, and the numbers for each are arbitrary in some cases.

Large bowls of all of all 13 desserts fill the table after the 7-course meal that includes no meat by Catholic tradition.

Specifically for dessert, the table is cleared, covered with 3 layers of table cloths to represent the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and filled with the foods discussed below, which vary a little by household (the yule log cake has replaced thin waffles recently). The desserts are consumed with a drink of cooked wine that represents Jesus Christ; and diners are to eat from all 13 dishes to bring good luck in the new year.

Find some French recipes for Christmas at The Best French Christmas Recipes, including a shortcut for a fast Yule Log Cake.

The Last Supper In the Upper Room

Jacopo Tintoretto painted The Last Supper circa 1592.
Jacopo Tintoretto painted The Last Supper circa 1592. | Source

Images From the Last Supper in Cuisine

The 1 Olive Oil Pump (Le Pompe a Huile or Pompe de Noel a l'huile d'olive)

  • An an enriched, sweetened flat yeast bread made with olive oil is enjoyed by breaking the bread as Jesus did at the Last Supper. According to local custom, to cut the bread brings the risk of bankruptcy in the new year. The bread may be enjoyed with a beverage or accompanied by French cheeses as a traditional dessert.

The 2 Nougats

  • Black Nougat - with caramelized honey and almonds
  • White Nougat - with pine nuts, pistachio and hazelnuts

In some hosueholds, the black and white represent Evil and Good.

The 3 Yule Logs

  • This is a newer tradition, representing the buring of a log of olive wood by the oldest person in the household for blessings. See a long and a short recipe at The Best French Christmas Recipes.

The 4 Beggars

  • Hazelnuts to represent St. Augustin
  • Almonds - The Carmelite Order
  • Raisins - The Dominican Order
  • Dry figs - The Franciscan Order

Christmas Dessert Fruits

Quince jellies or "quince paste", as they are known. They are sweet fruit gels rolled in sugar.
Quince jellies or "quince paste", as they are known. They are sweet fruit gels rolled in sugar.
Example of a Santa Claus melon.
Example of a Santa Claus melon.
A sweeter Christmas Melon.
A sweeter Christmas Melon.

The 5 Fresh Oranges

  • These fresh oranges are a traditional Christmas Gift as well and represent wealth in the coming year. In the Great Depression in America, a fresh orange was a real treat for a child at Christmas, the only gift he or she might find in a Christmas Stocking.

The 6 Quince Jellies (Fruit Paste)

  • In the photo to the right, you can see that this dessert is a thick gel that is made from quince nectar, solidified, and rolled in sugar.

The 7 Dates Stuffed with Marzipan (Dattes)

  • Dates are oval and recall the fish symbol of Jesus Christ - an oval with a fish's tail. For this dessert, dates are slit, stuffed with marzipan, and sometimes rolled in additional sweets like sugar or colored sugars. These are very sweet.

The 8 Christmas Melons, Santa Claus Melons, or Green Melons (or Verdau)

  • These winter melons are a bit different from summer melons and are sometimes called white melons, because of their light coloring. Some of these melons ripen in December, others in November through January, and some may not be as sweet as watermelon, but look similar. These melons are traditionally kept on top of a layer of straw to keep them from spotting.

The fish symbol of Christ - Be Ye Fishers of Men.
The fish symbol of Christ - Be Ye Fishers of Men.
Candied lemon citron.
Candied lemon citron.
Prunes and plums.
Prunes and plums.
White grapes.
White grapes.

The 9 "Candied Melons"

  • This is candied citron, or the candied skins of citrous fruits, cooked in sugar syrup and dried.

The 10 Winter Pears and Apples

  • Winter pears may include Beurre Clairgeau, Beurre d'Anjou, Beurre Easter, or Josephine de Malines varieties.

The 11 Dried Plums (Prunes)

  • These plums, when dried, becomes sweetened prunes. Prunes are also used to stuff a goose if it is used as a course during the dinner.

The 12 Champagne Grapes

  • Fresh green or white grapes, regular sized or Champagne sized (tiny)

The Thirteenth Dessert, a French Delicacy Of Nougat

:Calisson d'Aix
:Calisson d'Aix | Source

These Calissons confections are traditionally connected with the town of Aix-en-Provence, France.

The Awaited Thirteenth -- Calisson d'Aix

Calissons - French Traditional Candies, Diamond-shaped Box 9.2oz
Calissons - French Traditional Candies, Diamond-shaped Box 9.2oz

Also comes in rectangular boxes and different colors of icing. Direct from Provence, France the candies contain almonds, melon, and orange peels, topped off with a candy shell/royal icing.

 

The 13th Dessert

Calisson d'Aix is the most awaited dessert of the 13 Desserts of the Provencal Christmas Eve Feast. No English translation seems to exists other than "Calisson of Aix."

These treats are similar to candy-shelled Jordon Almonds found in bags or boxes at the grocery store, but with the difference of fruits and syrups combined with ground almonds to make a sweet paste.

This delicacy was first enjoyed in the 15th century, without almonds, and almonds were included after the introduction of this nut to Provence in the 16th century. The addition of almond paste made the native dessert of Provence world famous, even back in the 1500s.

In making this dessert, Past results when almonds are crushed with melons, crystallized, and added in with fruit syrup.

After this almond paste is made, Master Chefs extrude Calissons (petal or boat shaped candies) and cover each one with royal icing and then arrange them in shapes of flowers and other images. This is quite an art form.

© 2008 Patty Inglish

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Comments & Other Traditions of a French Christmas 6 comments

Stacie L profile image

Stacie L 7 years ago

Well Patty Inglish, that certainly is creative!

Not what I was expecting. Thanks for answering my request ;)


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

:) the world is amazing with so many possibilities. This one popped up just as it was needed. Thanks for the request, because it was fun to answer.


Netters profile image

Netters 7 years ago from Land of Enchantment - NM

Thanks for another great hub! I love food and you always give me different recipes to try. Thank you.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Glad they look like something you'd want to try, Netters! I have a lot more to come.


Kim 6 years ago

can i try this?


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Hi Kim,

I'm sure anyone would be able to do this. Go ahead and try and maybe your friends and family will join in.

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