Christmas in Provence: The Thirteen Desserts tradition
An ancient tradition …
The thirteen desserts tradition is a very ancient ritual widely spread all around Provence. It is about the sharing of thirteen desserts and sweets on Christmas Eve. This tradition is associated with many symbols. The number thirteen refers to the number of guests present at the Last Supper: Jesus Christ and his 12 Apostles. While the type and composition of desserts may differ, their number and meaning remain the same.
… that has remained intact through the ages
Thus, there are four types of dried fruits and nuts, two different nougats, some dates, some fresh fruits, and a traditional cake called “pompe à huile”. The dried fruits and nuts represent the four mendicant religious orders. Walnuts or hazelnuts stand for the Augustine, dried figs refer to the Franciscan, raisins correspond to the Dominican, and almonds symbolise the Carmelites. Each category of fruits has the same colour as the robe of the different religious orders.
Then, there is the traditional cake called “pompe à huile”, always placed in the middle of the table. It is made of fine flour, orange blossom water, brown sugar and olive oil. According to custom, it must not be sliced with a knife but it should be broken just like Jesus did with the bread. Remember, your family will be ruined in the following year if you slice the cake!
You will also find two different types of nougat on the table: one is white and the other one is black. The white one is made of hazelnuts, pine nuts, and pistachio nuts, and symbolises the Good. On the contrary, the dark nougat represents the Evil and is flavoured with honey and almonds. Dates refer to the Christ as they also come from Orient. Finally, the last components of the thirteen desserts are fresh fruits: oranges, grapes, clementines, watermelon, and winter apples and pears.
If you are still hungry after that, you can add quince jam and even some traditional Calissons from Aix-en-Provence!
If you want to discover this tradition, come at Benvengudo hotel for the Christmas Eve dinner and enjoy these much-vaunted thirteen desserts!