THE TRADITION OF 13 DESSERTS.
Of all ancient Christmas traditions the presentation of thirteen desserts is probably the most celebrated in Provencal cottages today. Displayed on three tablecloths among three candles or candlesticks and the three cups of Saint Barbara's wheat
the thirteen desserts represent the thirteen table guests of the Last Supper gathering Christ and the twelve Apostles.
The age of this tradition has not been ascertained but it is surely several centuries old. It regained importance during the nineteenth century when the felibres
, starting with Frederic Mistral
, addressed the issue of traditional Provencal Christmas celebrations. It gave those celebrations a new impetus so that today Christmas Eve cannot be thought of without thirteen desserts on the table.
The thirteen desserts are served after the dinner which consists in a skimpy meal before attending Midnight Mass. The thirteen desserts may vary from area to another but here is a list of them with some explanations regarding their meaning on the table.
First comes the Provencal brioche bread which must be presented broken and not cut as a reference to Jesus breaking the bread. It is traditionally made with wheat flour, olive oil, brown sugar and orange blossom flavouring and brought to the provencal crib
by the “Pistachier” figurine.
Surrounding it the four mendicants are represented by the fruit and nuts Florentines:
• nuts or hazelnuts representing the Augustins,
• almonds the Carmelites,
• dried figs the Franciscans,
• raisins the Dominicans.
Black and white nougats symbolize the black and white penitents.
They are followed by dates (symbolizing Christ who came from the Orient) dried figs and other oriental fruits as a reminder of the origin of the Three Kings.
Finally, fruits of the season such as water melon which is gradually being abandoned, grapes, apples, pears, oranges, tangerines, quince jelly, doughnuts, etc.
These desserts shall remain on the table for three days and guests have to make it a point to taste them all! The thirteen desserts are accompanied by fortified wine as a reference to Christ’s wine.
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