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The Christmas Crib
La crèche

St Francis of Assisi is said to have been the first to make a Crib. In a cave in Greccio, Italy, during Christmas 1223 he placed a real donkey and a real ox in his créche. The tradition of having a crib at Christmas became very common in Italy and France. Many French homes at Christmas time have a crib or creche, which serves as the focus for the Christmas celebration.

Crib with santons
 

The creche is common in shops, towns and churches.

Here is the stable scene

In the South of France, the creches are very different from the ones we are familiar with. What makes these cribs different is that they present a good deal more than the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a stable, with the shepherds, and Magi (the Three Kings). The creche is a little village, with all the important local people and village characters as well.

Each area in France has its own way of making the figures in the crib. They may be made from wood, pastry or clay and they are painted. They may be tiny or as big as life size. The creche in peoples' homes often has little clay figures called santons or "little saints."

These little figures are made by craftsmen in the south of France throughout the year. The craftsmanship involved in creating the gaily colored santons is quite astounding. The patterns for the moulds for clay figurines have been passed from generation to generation since the seventeenth century. The colours and materials are traditional. Throughout December the figures are sold at annual Christmas fairs in the South of France.

Les crèches

The creche with santons often represents the village itself, with familiar buildings. In some of the creches pictured below, the school, the café, some of the houses and landmarks really existed in the original villages or towns. These are creches from private homes; they are the result of much hard work.

in the fileds
villagers go to stable
Villagers in the fields
Orcival villagers go to the stable
village school
outside the café
The village school and children
Outside the café
crossing the bridge
Mary and Joseph in cave
Villagers gather to cross the bridge
Mary and Joseph in a cave under the bridge

Here are some of the village characters you might find in a Santon collection.

The old shepherd................ Le berger vieux
The woman selling fish......... La Poissonière
The fisherman..................... Le Pêcheur
The Woman selling garlic..... La femme à l'ail
The milk maid ........... La laitière
The lady with the umbrella.... Margarida parapluie
The pig man...................... L'homme au cochon
The woman selling snails..... La femme aux limaçons
The old woman with bundles of sticks for sale................ La femme au fagot
The peasant with baskets.... Le paysan au panier
The homeless man............ La vagabond
The hunter....................... Le chasseur
The priest with the umbrella.. Le curé au parapluie
The pitcher seller............ L'homme aux cruches
The brigand.................... Le brigand
The miller ........................ Le meunier
The rabbit seller ............... La femme au lapin
The man with the goose...... L'homme à l'oie
The lavander gatherer......... Le ramassseur de lavande
The goat herder.................. La femme à la chèvre

There are many other characters in the village. To have a look at all the characters, and some sample villages, click here.

Here are some of the Santons in the village.
The ones illustrated are very little, perhaps only 2 - 4 cm high.

poules
smith
Le fermier or farmer is taking his hens to the stable.
Le paysan au panier, the peasant with baskets.
dry cod seller
dame aux fagots
The dried fish seller was an important salesman when there were no fridges or freezers.
La dame au fagot. The lady with the firewood. She carries her bundle of sticks for sale.
plough
vendeuse des marrons
The ploughman works in the fields.
La vendeuse des marrons chauds. The hot chestnut seller is part of winter life in France.
 

Bienvenue!
 

The story of Santons - how they originated

La crèche - examples of family made crèches.

Santon characters you could find in a village collection.

Pictures of little Santons

 

xmas tree

OTHER LINKS

A "grand repas" at Christmas

 

 

 

 

     
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