Tuesday, 1 January 2013

On The Eighth Day of Christmas

Not eight maids a-milking but eight leafy clementines in one of my hooky bowls.

The traditional meal of "Le Gros Souper" with "les treize desserts" that is celebrated on Christmas Eve in France, especially in Provence, is packed with symbolism. The thirteen desserts stand for Christ and his twelve apostles and it's not just the food that is symbolic - the table must be carefully laid with three white tablecloths representing the Holy Trinity and there are three white candles for the same purpose. The wine also represents Christ and is traditionally a "vin cuit" -  a fortified wine. In a departure from my French roots, I don't usually serve a French "vin cuit", of which there are many delicious local Provençal varieties, but opt for a sweet Madeira which is easier to obtain in the UK. I also include mince pies which aren't French of course either! But I think a little local individual improvisation is acceptable and even "de rigueur" in these things!

Many of the desserts themselves also have  symbolic meaning. For example, the customary raisins, dried figs, hazelnuts and almonds represent "les quatre mendiants" - the four mendicant orders of friars, Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites and Augustinians.  Dates are included as a reminder of the Holy Family's trip to, and safe return from, Egypt. Good and evil are usually represented by light and dark nougat, although in our house where we have this meal on Christmas Eve every year, we make dark chocolate truffles and soft, ivory ricciarelli  to represent good and evil as I find nougat-making not only very sticky and messy but also extremely stressful. Not a good idea to attempt it in the run-up to Christmas, for everyone's sake! Panettone-like bread, "la pompe à l'huile", flavoured with olive oil and orange-flower water, (which is always broken, never cut with a knife), is a reminder that the baby in the manger is also the Bread of Life.

Traditionally "les desserts" are left on the table at the end of the meal so that long-dead family ancestors can drift in under cover of darkness and share the meal. I don't find too many depredations occur overnight but the tradition serves as a very easy way of producing breakfast on Christmas Day and by lunchtime most of the thirteen plates and bowls are empty although whether that is courtesy of family ghosts or more fleshly family members, I couldn't say!

Clementines are usually included on Christmas Eve among les treize desserts as a symbol of hoped-for prosperity in the coming New Year and to see off bankruptcy. Prosperity is not just about financial security, important though that is, so my New Year's Day blessing is about prosperity in a wider sense.

May you know prosperity of soul in the coming year - the prosperity of seeing hopes blossom, plans flourish and dreams, big and small, come true. May you find the well-springs that sustain you are free-flowing and never dry up even in the aridity of drought or difficulty.


  1. I have enjoyed your post-Christmas entries. Lovely!

  2. Thank you for the blessings. I am really enjoying reading these. Chel x

  3. Thank you for explaining so meaningfully the Provence traditions we experience each year at home. Each area of Provence, however, adapt the tradition locally , by example fresh fruits (which are a part of the Treize desserts) were oranges in Marseilles, or in the ports along the coast,whereas in other areas, it was more often apples or pears..;So, I think you can certainly substitute Madeira for "vin cuit" !...
    The recipe for "Nougat noir" is really easy, it is worth having a try, but the "Nougat blanc"-making is tricky, and I prefer buying it already made.
    And the "Pompe à l'huile" home-made is delicious..I cook usually 4 pompes, which don't last for a long time...
    Bonne et heureuse année 2013 dear Mrs Tittlemouse. (Une lettre est partie hier vers toi)

  4. Very interesting - I wonder why clementines are associated with prosperity? Judy

  5. Lovely and so very interesting- you are a lady of abundant knowledge! Thank you and wishing you all prosperity in 2013!

  6. What a very interesting tradition, I hadnt heard of it before.

    Happy New Year!


  7. So interesting! I did not know of this tradition, and I am constantly fascinated by festive traditions in other countries.

    May you also be blessed with prosperity in this coming year, Elizabeth!

    Gillian x


Thank you so much for taking the time to visit me at Mrs TT's and comment. I love to read what you write.