One of the oldest Provençal Christmas tradition is certainly the 13 desserts symbolising the Last Supper : Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles. It is said to date back centuries ago. However , it was thanks to Frédéric Mistral, a famous french poet that brought it back to light in the 19th century.
The 13 desserts are served after the Gros Souper (The Big Supper) before going to the midnight mass. The composition of the 13 desserts may vary from one region to another but the basics are as follow :
First of all, there is the Pompe à l’huile (Oil Pump) which is a bread made of flour, olive oil, sugar and orange flower water. It symbolises Torn like Jesus tearing the bread and not cutting it up with a knife.
Around the Pompe à l’huile, there will be the representation of the 4 religious mendicant orders. The dull colours remind us of the robes of these orders :
Walnuts or hazelnuts – The Augustinian Order
Almonds – The Carmelite Order
Dried Figs – The Franciscan Order
Raisins – TheDominican Order
Two kinds of nougat symbolizing good and evil.
Black nougat with honey (Nougat noir au miel), a hard candy made with honey and almonds
White nougat (Nougat blanc), a soft candy made with sugar, eggs, pistachios, honey and almonds.
Then according to each household, the other items may vary :
The dates symbolises the origin where Christ lived and died. Dried plums or apricots representing
the Far East, the origins of the Three Wise Men.
Fruits of the season are included like the apples, pears, oranges, winter melons, grapes, tangerines as well as Calisson d’Aix (a marzipan-like candy made from almond paste and candied melon), oreillettes (thin waffles), pain d’epice (spice cake), pâte de coing (quince paste), candied lemon or orange peel, etc
These desserts are set out on the dining table at Christmas Eve and kept for 3 days until 27 December and guests and family members should taste each one of them. It is always accompanied by a cooked wine symbolising the wine of Christ.