We have a friend, Corinne, who lives beside the village chapel so is its key keeper. We went down the other night to admire the newly-renovated frescoes (circa 1850), but also to see the crèche that Corinne and several villagers had installed. Provençaux crèches celebrate not only the birth of Christ but also village life, as this one does. There is wood to be chopped, white laundry on the line, and several lovely vignettes such as an elderly couple sitting on a bench, a young woman with a baby in her arms, kids in the school house…
I love how creative they are, too. Crumpled up craft paper makes surprisingly realistic mountains, and tin foil becomes a stream.
There have been some recent rumblings in France to restrict crèches to churches only; no more in town halls or village squares. Fans of the crèche have countered, claiming that the crèche, in some regions, especially Provence, represent not only a religious scene but have become a cultural institution. Many villages in Provence have crèches vivantes:
The table in the chapel was laid out with the traditional thirteen desserts of Provence; Corinne joked that this table had thirty desserts. The thirteen desserts represent Jesus and the twelve apostles and is made up of dried fruit and nuts, fresh fruit, and sweets (calissons from Aix, spice cake, candied citron, and two kinds of nougat, white and black). We drank hot mulled wine, but given the recent warm weather a Bandol rosé would have worked just as well.
Corinne’s own crèche, in a conservatory that’s attached to the chapel but belongs to her, was very rustic and charming, full of moss she gathered in the forest and making great use of a knobby stone wall:
Happy holidays and all the best for a safe and happy 2015,