If you don't know where to buy santons in Provence, we offer different sets of 3 handmade figurines from a renowned craftsman to set up your own Provencal crib.
He’s the Archangel Gabriel, the one who announced to Mary that she would be the mother of a savior. He also announces the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. He joins his hands in prayer.
He’s the one who carried Marie pregnant to the stable. He must be at her side. With the ox, he warms the newborn with his breath.
He symbolizes strength and stands on Joseph's side. Like the donkey, he blows on the baby Jesus to warm him up.
Christmas crib history
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.
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.
In the Provencal crib, each character has a particular function to recreate the scene of the Nativity surrounded by a village of Provence. Apart from the stable's characters, the old Provencal jobs are represented: baker, miller, shepherd, garlic merchant, washerwoman, fisherman, and many others.
It’s about a village revival as if Jesus was born in Provence: the angel Boufareu (blower) announces the news to the shepherds. All the inhabitants converge on the barn to see the Newborn. They cross the hill, with their baskets of harvest, their animals, go through the olive groves. All the Provencal landscapes are represented.
So let yourself be transported by the magic of a Provencal crib, and dive into the world of Santons, jolly and cheerful figurines. The Christmas spirit is already blowing on your house!