Santons de Provence – A French Christmas Tradition


What we Americans typically associate with Christmas might be a creche and the beloved Nativity Scene — in France, in particularly Provence, there is the Nativity along with other Santons and the creche (from Old French cresche “crib, manger, stall,”).  In France, just like in North America the creche is a model or tableau representing the scene of Jesus Christ’s birth, displayed in homes or public places at Christmas.

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The origins of the santons of Provence can be traced back to the French Revolution, circa 1789. With the Revolution, churches became “property of the French state” and, in 1793, the national assembly decided to close all of the churches.   Nativity scenes were banished and forbidden.  One would look at the blade of the guillotine if found with a nativity set or found making one.


As events in history preclude a tradition or how it initiates a new tradition, it will often times fall short all together OR as the old and new merge the tradition will manifest more strong and vibrant – even still today.  This is evident in the Nativity and non-religious Santons.  Unknowingly the “diminutive” santon became a child of the French Revolution and it’s worth noting that santons were also a way of preserving religion.

In the picture below if you look closely you can see an angel and wise men as well as people of this French village celebrating the birth of Christ.

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The people, who were profoundly religious, were used to going to church to see the Christmas crèche. No longer able to do this because the churches were closed, they started making the crèche at home, in hiding since it was forbidden.

Santons are small hand-painted terracotta nativity scene figurines and were first produced in the Provence region of southeastern France. In a traditional Provençal crèche, there are 55 individual figures representing various characters from Provençal village life such as the scissors grinder, the fishwife, the blind man, and the chestnut seller – etc…



A maker of santons is a santonnier, and the creation of santons today is essentially a family craft, handed down from parents to children.  But these small and easily hid figurines were first made by Louis Lagnel in 1798.  He designed the first plaster moulds to make his santons. This new technology made mass production and wide distribution possible. These “penny santons” finally allowed everyone to own their own crèche.

A few of the most loved santonniers are:

  • The olive picker
  • The gypsy
  • The notary
  • The baker

Olivido (Olive Gatherer)      Gitane (Gypsy)

 Boulanger (Baker)

Santons in Provencal costume

As the French Revolution imposed sanctions on religious practices, the making of santons allowed the people to celebrate the daily life of a French village – celebrating all who contribute to make the village vibrant.  These clay made representations of people and the village was a way to combine the sacred Nativity with everyday Provencal life.

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santons of provence

Santons in a nativity scene

The French people, in particularly in Provence, begin arranging and displaying their creches with figurines in mid-November…

In Provence,  December 4, is the beginning of Calendale.  This word comes from the Provençal word Calèndo meaning Christmas!

The Pagnol (figures that represent everyday life) characters at some point are completely removed OR merged with the traditional figures of the Nativity story.  The Christmas celebration ends on February 2 upon the feast of la Chandeleur (candle mass).

These little village scenes are so charming and are elevated in importance when the Blessed Nativity is added.

Our architectural / garden antiques shop, RF Antiques,  carries the nativity and have them in stock prior to Christmas.  Come visit us if you need to add this element to your Christmas festivities.

The nativity scene below has been cleverly displayed in a French wine crate with pine straw.



During the month of December, DEFINING FRANCE will be celebrating all things that are considered “Christmas traditional” in France!


Au Revoir!  A La Prochaine!!

The pictures in this post are our own or borrowed from other informational sources in an effort to educate our readers through visual aspects regarding Christmas traditions in France.


America’s Holiday


Crown and Colony Antiques, Aubergine Antiques and RF Antiques are grateful to have loyal readers and we Thank You for subscribing to DEFINING FRANCE

Thanksgiving is “America’s Holiday”,  but the French just like the Americans are —Grateful for Family and Friends,  Enjoy Well Wishing toward people they love,  cherish the comforts of Home and most of all value PEACE.

 We wish you a blessed Thanksgiving Holiday and hope you will continue to enjoy reading our posts about FRANCE and all the things we have in COMMON with this wonderful country.


Au Revoir!  A La Prochaine!!



The Simplicity of  Trestle TablesImage result for images of a trestle table

Image result for images of a trestle tabletrestle /ˈtrɛs(ə)l/

Dating back to the Middle Ages and beyond, sturdy and simplistic trestle tables have been used to host a myriad of feasts for centuries.

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These table are the oldest tables documented in the Western world.  Here you see the beginning of a feast and a trestle table in use.

dia de accion de gracias

Early versions of the trestle table at work in a kitchen

Tudor kitchen at Hampton Court Palace - this was the biggest kitchen I've ever stood in.:

The trestle tables were generally constructed by laying wooden boards on trestle frames, which at the time were collapsible so they could be easily assembled and dismantled to make room for further ceremony like dancing  in the great halls of Medieval castles.
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Even Shakespeare made mention of these portable trestle tables in Romeo and Juliet by writing:  “More lights, ye knaves, and turn the tables up.”

 Monasteries in the medieval times had a refectory, or a room for congregate group dining.  A very long trestle table was popular in these rooms and commonly became known as refectory tables. In the late middle ages, the refectory trestle table became the table preferred for banquets and feasts held in castles or high estates.  You can bet under this table cloth is the “trestle table”.

I write, in my Benedictine Rule, that the model of monastic life is the family- with the abbot as the father and all the monks as brothers (abbot is to make no distinctions among monks). This is combined with the order of a roman military scola. Priesthood is not a prerequisite to become a monk. Daily life is to be regulated into periods of prayer (both private and communal), the reading of sacred texts, manual labor, and sleep.:

If you own one of these good looking tables you won’t be dismantling it to move it away.  It will stay in the dining room or in the foyer or wherever it lands to add beauty and function.

As cultures advanced across the globe, this engineered marvel was emerging, in the United States and abroad:  France, Spain, Italy and England.  The regional influences are seen depending on where the table originated.


This trestle table has the French and Spanish influence  – the Basque region is at the north of Spain, bordering the Atlantic Ocean and France. It is defined formally as an autonomous community of three provinces within Spain, and culturally including a fourth province and a part of Pyrénées-Atlantiques in France.  So you can understand why the visual interpretation of the table could go either way.  The influences for style flow back and forth over the borders.




This is the table that says, “the more the merrier”, and begs to be used for a hearty meal – especially one like our Thanksgiving meal.  It is a table that allows you to squeeze in as much seating as possible without the imposition of four separate legs –typically found on dining tables.

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This table has more of the Italian influence and may be from where France forms the northwest border of Italy.



You can take full advantage of the structured shape of this style table by using a rustic long bench. love large farm tables/ and nearby fireplaces are always welcome:

 This type seating accommodates the masses and is an option if you are planning to host large gatherings on a regular basis.  Otherwise, it can be beautifully paired with dining chairs.


This particular table can seat eight comfortably with no one person straddling a table leg!


The holidays are literally here!!  Thanksgiving is two weeks away!  IF you are in need of a dining table or a serving piece – we have so much in stock right now.  We Americans look forward to Thanksgiving.  But, bear in mind the French do not celebrate Thanksgiving — they just know that it is a holiday  when the Americans eat a lot of turkey.  Image result for thanksgiving feast on a trestle table

However, you can incorporate that European style into your Thanksgiving dinner by using a trestle table — Take a look at our trestle tables – If you see something you like – Call us.   AUBERGINE ANTIQUES 251-928-0902

Happy Thanksgiving! 

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Au Revoir!  A La Prochaine!!




Champagne and Flutes

For centuries, the great moments in life have been punctuated with champagne—French champagne.  But those moments also call for a special glass from which to drink this beverage!

To begin:

Wines from a certain region in France were known before medieval times. Champagne is a specific sort of sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France, and legally, only wines from this region made with the Méthode Champenoise qualify as champagne.  The Romans were the first to plant vineyards in this area of north-east France, with the region being cultivated by at least the 5th century, possibly earlier. Later, churches owned vineyards and monks produced wine for use in the sacrament of Eucharist.

Monk Dom Perignon has been noted as the father of champagne! Dom Pérignon was the entrepreneur of champagne – He made it happen!


 He was a bubbly enthusiast and tinkerer who made several important contributions to champagnes current quality. These include perfecting the blending of still wines before secondary fermentation and the introduction of the cork.

He is noted to have said, “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars” when he founded Champagne.

In Dom Perignon’s picture above he obviously didn’t know that the really proper way to open a bottle of champagne is to do it with a whisper – all the best culinary schools teach this (of course this might not have the vigor and fun of just “letting the cork fly” over everyones head, so to speak – but, the bottle is to be softly opened).

How To Open a Bottle of Champagne

The only tools you need for this are two thumbs and a kitchen towel.

There’s a lot of pressure pent up inside that bottle of champagne! That is why many champagne bottles have foil and a wire cage around the cork so there is no chance of the cork “popping” prior to its intended use. Getting the cork OUT is not the problem, it’s controlling the cork!  One wants to e-a-s-e the cork out as slowly and gently as possible and “Catching the Cork” becomes less tricky when you use a towel.

Why You Need a Towel

This towel is not for wiping up the spills, it is for controlling and grabbing the cork as you ease it out. Drape the towel over the bottle and hold it securely against the neck, but leave a bit of an air pocket so the cork has room to move. The towel assists in maintaining a firm grip on the cork and also catches it once it’s released from the bottle.

And there you have it  –the Champagne should whisper when it opens!” When sparkling wine is opened properly, just the barest puff of effervescence should be heard, a mere whisper, when the cork is pulled.

Now that you have the champagne bottle opened – What do you pour it in that would match the expression of the celebration?

The Champagne Flute perhaps — These are champagne flutes from France that are in abundance at Aubergine Antiques, our French Culinary Shop, in downtown Fairhope, Alabama.


The champagne flute (French: flûte à champagne) is a stem glass with a tall, narrow bowl, generally holding about 6 to 10 US fl oz of liquid. The champagne flute was developed in the late 1700s and was preferred for this beverage  because the flute, with its deep bowl, allowed for a greater visual of the bubbles rising through the liquid to the top!

"A young lady ordering a champagne cocktail conjures up visions of a timeless and elegant Audrey Hepburn—classic, elegant, sophisticated, perhaps with a touch of whimsy, wearing a great tiny black cocktail dress. But a Kir Royale has unfortunately evolved into sweetening up some inexpensive sparkling wine with Chambord. That's for some gal straight after a roller derby match."

French Hand Blown Champagne Glasses 1

Even though the flute is synonymous with champagne, it was thought that before the flute  arrived on the scene, the coupe was the go-to glass for champagne. This coupe is more of a petite bowl or saucer – legend has it that the coupe glass was molded from Marie Antoinette’s left breast, and that she wanted her court to toast her health by drinking from glasses shaped like her bosom!!  Speculation of course!

Below are perfect examples of a coupe style glass.

(image credit to some of the photos -Faith Durand &

More flutes below from Aubergines- Call us if you need to reserve a supply 251-928-0902.   The Thanksgiving Holiday and Christmas Holidays (including NEW YEARS EVE) are literally upon us.  These flutes are always so nice to have on hand for a special toast during that time.


Even when flutes are similar, but have slight variations in width, height and perhaps etchings — An assortment looks divine served on a silver platter all full of bubbly!  Some glasses have a wider bowl, but not as wide as the coupe — these can be used for wine or a mix of Champagne and orange juice called a Mimosa.


Ingredients for a MIMOSA

  • 2 oz. orange juice
  • 4 oz. champagne of your choice
  • Directions:  Fill champagne flute 2/3 full (or 1/3, for Anglophiles) of fresh-squeezed orange juice & top with champagne

    French Hand Blown Champagne Glasses 5

Champagne is the drink of choice at many celebrations – weddings, births, christenings, anniversaries, birthdays, holidays all year long – all symbolic of a joyous occasion that warrants a toast.  As well, the champagne glass is often raised to commemorate a very special person…

Our glasses this day are raised to C. Fargason  – in memoriam.

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Au Revoir! A La Prochaine!!