A Christmas in Provence n°2

On December 24th: the Christmas Yule Log "Lou Cacho-Fio"

The traditional Yule log is not the cake we know but a real wooden log that was supposed to burn in the family fireplace for 3 days and 3 nights, or for some, until Epiphany. It symbolized the warmth and strength of renewal simmering beneath the dormant winter earth.

This ritual of transmission between generations took place before the Big Supper. The youngest member of the family, accompanied by the eldest, would go fetch the largest log from the reserves. It preferably came from a fruit tree, whose dense wood burned slowly: the fire was solemnly lit or "bouta lou fio" (lighting the fire).

The entire household would then circle the table three times (for the Trinity) while the "caganis" (or youngest) watered the log with a branch dipped in mulled wine, and the elder uttered the following words:

<< Cacho-fiò  Bouto-fiò

Alègre ! Alègre !

Dièu nous alègre

Calèndo vèn, tout bèn vèn

Dièu nous fague la gràci de veire l’an que vèn

E se noun sian pas mai, que noun fuguen pas mens >>

Translating to: "Christmas log, Give us the fire

Joy! Joy!

God gives us joy

Christmas comes, all is well

May God grant us the grace to see the coming year

And if we are not more, may we not be less"

This ritual is disappearing due to the lack of fireplaces in contemporary apartments. The edible log has replaced the wooden log.

On December 24th, Christmas Eve: the big evening supper

This family meal is a collection of symbols and rituals to be observed before midnight mass and for the more grounded, the arrival of Santa Claus. These are mostly very old customs Christianized: 3 tablecloths and bowls of wheat represent the Trinity, 7 dishes represent the 7 sorrows of Mary, 13 desserts represent Christ and the 12 apostles.

The table is set with 3 stacked white tablecloths and the 3 bowls of Saint Barbara's wheat. Three candles symbolizing the past, present, and future are placed. A branch of holly with its persistent leaves and bright berries is a symbol of eternity and renewal. It recalls the crown of thorns of Christ and the blood shed during the Passion.

Each tablecloth corresponds to one of the meals: the evening of the 24th, then the 25th at noon, then the 25th in the evening. The table is not cleared between meals; only the corners of the tablecloths are lifted until the next meal, when the previous cloth will be removed. Angels and souls of the dead can then join the festivities. An extra place setting is always set for the "poor" or passing guest who is always welcome at Christmas.

All dishes must be arranged on the table from the beginning. Although called "big," it is a lean supper, without meat. It consists of 7 dishes, much more than daily meals, hence its name.

Composed of the available provisions at the time, a few vegetables are nevertheless essential: cardoons, celery, artichokes... au gratin or accompanied by anchovy sauce. Cod or oysters and other shellfish or snails complement, depending on families and localities, the menu, as well as Aiguo-Boulido, a clear garlic soup.

It concludes with the 13 desserts. They remain available to all in the dining room for several days, until there are none left.

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