Spotted in Burgundy early December
La Crèche, or the manger, in France is a very popular holiday tradition. It originated in 12th century France as liturgical drama. At first the manger itself resembled an altar and was placed either inside the church or in front of the main church entrance—a custom that continues today. The popular manger was introduced in Avignon by the family of Saint Francis of Assisi between 1316 and 1334, but it was not until the 16th century that the making of crèches or grebbes, as they were called in old French, became a widespread custom among families.
Nowadays, the family arranges a manger in a special place in a prominent part of the house. In Provence, the children bring rocks, branches and moss to make a setting for the manger. The manger figures are called santons (little saints), and are often made of terracotta. The santons are grouped around the manger to represent the Holy Family, the other characters of the story of the Nativity, and maybe people of their town or village, such as; the mayor, the priest, the policeman, the butcher, the baker, or the farmer. This is also often seen in public places. In many families the santons are passed down through the generations.
Since 1803, a special fair for the sale of the santons has been held in Marseilles during the month of December. You can also often see santons at the lovely Christmas markets all over the country.
We were in Burgundy in December and found crèches at three of the large cathedrals: one in Dijon, one in Beaune, and one in Dole. But, they are all around the country, and I would love to collect some other examples.
Joyeux Noel et Bonne Annee!