December 4: Start of the Christmas calendar festivities, Saint Barbara's wheat

On December 4th, wheat grains or lentils are planted in 3 bowls representing the Holy Trinity. They will adorn the Christmas table and then the Nativity scene until Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi on January 6th.

Later placed in the ground, it is hoped that the saying: "quand lou blad vèn bèn, tout vèn ben" will prove true. "When the wheat grows well, everything grows well." If the wheat is well sprouted at Christmas, the next harvest will be good, and the coming year prosperous.

Saint Barbara is celebrated on December 4th, around the first Sunday of Advent. Barbara is linked to the power of divine fire that protects and saves, but also to the renewing force of nature in the heart of winter. She is the patron saint of firefighters and all activities related to fire.

This Christian tradition is an adaptation of ancient customs dating back to the earliest days of agriculture. Human communities, subject to the winter sleep of nature, feared that the awakening of vegetation would not happen or would be inadequate. Sprouting a few seeds of the next sowing in advance when the days are shortest dispelled these fears.


Its installation and place in the household follow some common rules. These vary in detail because the Nativity scene reflects the personality of each family.

It is set up on the first Sunday of Advent and remains in place until February 2nd, Candlemas Day. Jesus is added on the night of December 24th to 25th or on the morning of December 25th by the youngest member of the family. The Magi finally arrive on January 6th, Epiphany.

The tradition of Nativity scenes is very ancient in its living form. Churches organized representations of the Nativity until the French Revolution. With the closure of churches in 1793, Provençal people continued by each creating their own small Nativity scene at home.

These small saints or "santons" were initially made by each household with whatever materials were available. It was the Marseille sculptor Jean-Louis Lagnel (1764 - 1822) who created their version in painted clay, which is still used today.

In addition to the 11 essential santons for the Nativity scene: the Holy Family, the donkey, the ox, the lamb, the shepherd, the Angel Gabriel, and the 3 Magi, the other characters represent the ideal Provençal village of the late 18th century, according to each one's desires. But there is no limit to creativity in this matter: all eras and characters are welcome.

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