A popular tradition at Christmas is displaying Santons or “little saints”…
These are small colourful hand-made Christmas figures part of a typical French Nöel crèche (Christmas Nativity scene), made in the South of France. The idea was started by an artist in Marseille and quickly spread through Provence and Languedoc Roussillon.
The traditional nativity scene includes figures representing the characters from local village life such as the baker, the fisherman, the butcher, the blind man, the shepherd, the parish priest, the flower seller, the storyteller and the chestnut seller etc etc! Typical santon scenes include musicians and dancers who dance the farandole with joined hands.
There are two types of Provençal santons: santons d’argile (hand-painted clay figures) and santons habilles (figures dressed in real clothes and carrying real baskets, lavender, fishing nets etc).
Since 1803, each December, Santons are sold at the Foire des Santonniers in Marseille. Aubagne has a two-day fair, Biennale de l’Art Santonnier. Arles also has its well-known Salon International des Santonniers. The Musée du Santon in Marseille has an interesting show of 18th and 19th century Santons.
Most towns have Santons in their Christmas markets and fairs - in fact these “little saints” are everywhere in Southern France during the festive season!
Joyeux Noël !