The genuine santons of Provence are shaped in clay and painted by hand. It’s a French craft, coming from an ancient tradition.
This tradition of Provencal creche continues today in southern France, where the influence of Occitan culture remains. There’s a strong concentration of santonniers in Aubagne, Marseille, Aix en Provence and Arles.
In the crib, each character has a specific function to help recreate the Nativity scene surrounded by a village in Provence. Apart from the subjects of the stable, unavoidable, old Provencal trades are represented: baker, miller, shepherd, garlic seller, washerwoman, fisherman, and many others.
In fact, it is about reviving a village as if Jesus had been born in Provence: the angel Boufarèu (blower) announces the news to the shepherds. All the inhabitants converge on the stable to see the Newborn. They cross the hill, with their baskets of crops, their animals, go through the olive groves, and all the Provençal landscapes are represented.
So let yourself be transported by the magic of a Provençal crib, and immerse yourself in the world of santons, jovial and cheerful figurines. The spirit of Christmas is already blowing through your home!
Did you know?
The French word santon comes from the Provencal santoun which means "little saint". Originally, the living cribs were intended to recreate the scene of the Nativity in the churches, and since the Middle Ages under St. Francis of Assisi. But the French revolution banned them in public, which led families to use dummy figurines to continue the tradition in their homes.
These characters were made of different materials (paper mache, breadcrumbs, plaster). In Marseille, in the nineteenth century, the competition of Neapolitan merchants who sold santibelli, has generated a resistance from the Provencal santonniers. The latter imposed the cooked clay and proposed their creations on markets of santons. These are still very popular today, in parallel with the Christmas markets.