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Le Gros Souper et les Treize Desserts

In France, it is the tradition to eat a special dinner late at night on Christmas Eve.  This meal is called le réveillon de Noël.   However, in the region of Provence, it is referred to as le gros souper - the big supper.   It is eaten before going to midnight mass - la messe de minuit.  It is a meat-free meal but fish is included.

It is a dinner that consists of symbols and numbers.

Le gros souper is served on a table that has:
1.   Trois nappes blanches  -  three white tablecloths.
2.   Trois chandeliers  -  three candle holders.
3.   Trois coupelles de blé germé  -  three little dishes of wheatgerm.
The number three represents the Holy Trinity - la Sainte-Trinité.

It is the custom to serve seven different meat-free dishes and seven different wines at the meal.  The number seven represents the seven Sorrows of Mary.

Afterwards, thirteen desserts are served.  They are known as les treize desserts or les calenos.  The number 13 represents Jesus and His twelve disciples.   The desserts are set out on the table like a banquet where they remain for three days, until the 27 December.


Two of the traditional desserts are called le gibassier and la pompe à l'huile d'olive.  They are a type of flat brioche containing olive oil and flavoured with aniseed, orange or lemon.  Another traditional item is le nougat which is served in two colours:  le nougat blanc (white nougat) and le nougat noir (black nougat).


Four of the 'desserts' are known as les quatre mendiants - the four beggars.  These four simple items are:  1.  les amandes (almonds)    2.  les raisins secs (raisins)   3.  les noix et les noisettes (walnuts and hazelnuts)   4.  les figues sèches (dried figs). 

Les quatre mendiants represent four religious orders: 
les amandes = the Carmelite Order
les raisins secs = the Dominican Order
les noix et les noisettes = the Augustinian Order
les figues sèches = the Franciscan Order

Other items that are traditionally included in the thirteen desserts are:  les pommes (apples), les poires (pears),  le melon vert (green melon), les raisins (grapes), les oranges et les mandarines, les dattes (dates),  les fruits confits (candied fruit), les pâtes de fruits (fruit pastilles), les calissons (diamond-shaped sweets from Provence), les papillotes (foil-wrapped chocolates) and le vin cuit (mulled wine).  

fruits confits.jpg

The variety of items is said to represent: rich and poor, good and bad.   
Le gros souper and les treize desserts are just full of mysterious and interesting symbols! 

Bon Appétit et Joyeux Noël!

Les Papillotes

Christmas in France


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