A tradition I enjoy at the beginning of Advent is displaying our French Creche Scene with it's colorful Santon characters. In October of each year I purchase a new piece or two to add to our little Provençal village.
Santon comes from the Provençal word meaning "santoùon", or little saints. Santons usually represent the people of villages in Provence and are generally depicted in 19th-century dress. The original Crèches in Provence date back to the 17th century, at a time when larger nativity scenes were outlawed during the French Revolution. Santons were created and displayed along with biblical figures, to represent everyday people of the village, such as the baker, policemen, fishmonger or local priest, bringing their simple offerings or gifts to Baby Jesus.
The Provençal Santons of today are made from fine clay usually found in the Marseilles and Aubagne of Provence. Two-piece plaster molds are made from original carvings and are filled with the clay for molding. The figures are placed in a kiln for baking, are removed from the mold and painted in great detail using bright colors. In November and December every year, there are Santon Fairs in villages throughout Provence area of France. The original Marseilles Santon fair is still in existence, from the end of November to Twelfth Night (Epiphany).The largest crèche in the world (an official Guinness record) is an 1136 square-meter miniature of a Provençal village, located in the town of Grignan in the Drôme, 10 km west of Valréas, France. Someday I hope to visit in November and pick out a very special Santon for my Creche. The photos that accompany this blog post are from our family Santon Nativity Scene. (If you want a close up view - click on the photos to enlarge).