One of the most cherished French traditions for Christmas is putting up the creche, the nativity set.
The Provencal creche is similar to North America's nativity scene, except it includes the entire village, not just a handful of shepherds, drummers, angels... The Provencal santons are made of harden clay. They are either painted or dressed. The creche (nativity) includes over fifty santons depicting a Provencal village and their occupations. The santons symbolize the people in the village who brought their gifts of labor to the Christ Child.
The first time I saw these little figurines was at the brocante. Instantly I was drawn to the ones that had been around the nativity scene for awhile, the ones that had taken a few tumbles, and looked like they had put in a full days work. You might say perfection was in the idea that they were loved, that a few children along the way had played with them, and that they had been around many more Christmases than I had.
For example looking at the photo above you can see that they santon has no feet. Her hat has kept the sun off her face, and speaking of faces.... The santon is blind.
L'Aveugle = The Blind Woman, is one of the santons of the traditional French creche = nativity scene.
What is her gift to the Christ Child?
The gift of believing without seeing.
The Stick Gatherer is this santon's job. Some brought gold to the Christ Child: This santon brought wood for the fire.
On a cold night with no room in the inn, a warm fire would be golden.
Le Berger et son chien = A Shephard and his dog,
La Jardiniere = The Gardener,
Les Vieux = The Old Couple,
Le Tambourinaire = The Drummer,
Le Bucheron = The Woodcutter,
Le Pecheur = The Fisher
La Posissonniere = The Fish Monger....
A santon depicting a Provencal woman carrying a large basket and a jug. She is bringing the gift of her cooking to the Christ child. The Kings brought gold, frankincense and myrrh... She brought food.
Riches are needed, we cannot deny that money (or gold frankincense, and myrrh) is important. Each of us has a gift to share, and each gift is worth a fortune.
The gift of time, the gift of listening, the gift of standing by someone's side, the gift or being there at the right time. The gift of who we are without fanfare. The gift of knowing what to say...
What gift will you bring today?
From Wikipedia: "Santons (Provençal: "santoun," or "little saint") are small (2.5-15 cm.) hand-painted, terracotta nativity scene figurines produced in the Provence region of southeastern France. In a traditional Provençal crèche, there are 55 individual figures representing various characters from Provençal village life such as the scissors grinder, the fishwife, the blind man, and the chestnut seller.
The first santons were created by Marseillais artisan Jean-Louis Lagnel (1764-1822) during the French Revolution when churches were forcibly closed and their large nativity scenes prohibited. Lagnel crafted small clay figurines in plaster molds and let them dry before firing them.
A maker of santons is a santonnier, and the creation of santons today is essentially a family craft, handed down from parents to children, Santons are fashioned in two halves, pressed together, and fused. Hats, baskets, and other accessories are applied with an adhesive. When the figure is completely dry, it is given a gelatin bath in order to harden the figure further and to provide a surface for the application of pigments. Faces are painted first, then hair, clothing and accessories. Until the end of the 19th century, santons were air-dried rather than fired in a kiln. As a consequence, such figures were fragile and easily broken. Modern santons are generally fired in a kiln. There are two types of santons: santons d'argile (clay figures), and doll-like santons habillé (clothed figures).
Since 1803, santonniers have gathered in Marseille each December to display and sell their wares at the Foire des Santonniers. Aubagne holds a two-day fair, Biennale de l'Art Santonnier, and the Musée du Santon in Marseille exhibits a private collection of 18th and 19th century santons."