Rich in symbols, marked in beliefs and omens, the Christmas traditions are well-anchored in the hearts of the Provençal people, and Christmases in Provence have their own particularities. Moments of sharing and reunions with family and friends, it is a succession of parties, rites and customs that punctuate the days : santons fairs, Christmas markets, concerts and pastorals, nativity scenes and santons are all on the agenda.
Christmas Eve in the Alpilles assumes a particular intensity, notably in Les Baux de Provence, a magnificent village where in the church a moment of grace and ardor is played out that will leave you filled with wonder.
Many people of Baux, involved in their traditions, participate in the fete, become actors in a well-codified play.
The "Noël aux Baux" in the Saint-Vincent church takes place during the midnight mass. It is first of all a living nativity scene (the costumed actors play specific characters), in front of which unfolds the "pastrage", a ritual that developed in the rural world and goes back to the 16th century. This traditional ceremony, abandoned during the 19th century, was picked up again and has been played since 1902.
Christmas is above all a pastoral ceremony. Don't forget that the winter solstice naturally corresponds to the lambing season. Consequently, the presentation of a lamb during the midnight mass can not be dissociated from the concerns of a population that lived essentially from ovine breeding.
Christmas in the village of Les Baux de Provence
Folk dance and Arlésiennes
The little shepherd and his herd of sheep
Shepherds' procession in the village streets
Living nativity scene in the church of Les Baux des Provence
The vigil starts around 11:30pm. It presents, in turns, carols and troubadour songs played with galoubet pipes and tambourines, and carols sung in Provençal.
- Aniue nosti vesin (invitation on the trip to Bethlehem)
- C'est le bon lever (herald – in French – by the angel, made to a shepherd, who answers in Provençal)
- Li pastourèu (depatrure of the shepherds)
- Hou de l'oustau ! (dialogue between Saint Joseph and the innkeeper).
At midnight, the service begins with the Carol Pastre di mountagno (the Angel's words and the departure of the shepherds). It continues with the Epistle, the Gospel and the Sermon*. Then, the Shepherd Carol is sung, the great news (dialogue between an angel - a child's voice - and a shepherd), composed at the end of the 18th century by the parish priest and the doctor of Les Baux.
Then, the shepherds' procession takes place to the sound of the Carol La Luno es Levado... Arriving in front of the altar, the angels sing, in Provençal, the Gloria.
The baile pastre (chief of the shepherds) pays homage, the first to, to the baby Jesus whom the priest presented to him. After him come the shepherdesses, until the baile-pastre comes back to end the ceremony, with a new homage and the final salutation: silence, accompanied only by the airs from the galoubet pipe and tambourine. The choir then sings the La Chato Avuglo (account of the miraculous cure of a young blind girl).
Then comes the moment for the Elevation: the baile-pastre approaches the altar holding the offertory lamb in his arms. After the Provençal hymn Armado Celèsto (invocation to the Angels) Communion is given to the faithful.
The midnight mass finishes with the Christmas blessing. A last time, the choir sings, in Provençal, the Carol Pastre Baussen, expressing the joy of the shepherds of Baux de Provence.
The Christmas period is very festive in Provence.
It begins on December 4 with the Sainte-Barbe to start the period called "Calendale", which will end at the Chandeleur (Candlemas, February 2).
Not to be missed in Provençal folklore during the Christmas period, the calendale vigils assume a family and collective character and herald the family vigil held on December 24.
Characteristic of Provençal Christmases, full of narratives and tales, songs and hymns, animated by the dances of folkloric groups and the guardians of Provençal traditions, the vigils muster the spirit of Christmas in Provence.
At that time, they sample the 13 desserts and sometimes even the big supper.
Between the hymns and the "Noëls" (Provençal songs of which the most famous were composed by Saboly, Roumanille and Charloun Rieu), the pastorale holds its place : theatrical representation of the Nativity sung and spoken in Provençal, it may also accompany the ceremony of the midnight mass.
It is part of the ritual and it evokes above all the story of Joseph looking near Bethlehem for lodgings for his family for the night.
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