There use to be a time when people celebrated Christmas in more simple and meaningful ways, in France, and the night before Christmas, Christmas Eve, called “réveillon” in French, was a night of remembrance and celebration.
Such celebration was emphasis by a special festive dinner after the midnight mass. Such dinner had to include 13 desserts which has a specific meaning. Such Christmas Eve dinner was traced back to 1683, even though it might have been older than that.
The 13 desserts of Christmas (les 13 déssèrts Noël) are a Christmas tradition from Provence, the south of France. It’s based on the religious celebration of the Nativity and each dessert has a specific meaning and purpose. The reason why there are 13 desserts is because they represent the 12 apostles and Jesus.
According to different ancient sources the 13 desserts have a slightly different origins, but regardless of this, they at least all agree to be of religious Christian based origin based on Jesus birth which includes four symbols
- The four mendicant religious orders
- The breaking of the bread by Christ
- The fruits of Africa referring to the Magi
- The black and white nougat representing the good and evil
According to different traditions and regions the desserts may vary a little, but there is actually an official list and it goes like this…
- The Pompe à l’huile (strange name meaning oil pomp) also called gibassié or fougasse depending on the region which is a type of flat bread made with flour, olive oil, water, orange blossom and brown sugar. This represents the bread broken by Christ on the last super.
2. White nougat
3. Black nougat which (representing good and evil)
4. Candied citron (also called succade)
5. Quince paste
6. Walnuts or Hazelnuts which represent the order of the Augustins
7. Almonds which represent the order of the Carmes
8. Dry figs which represent the order of the Franciscans
9. Raisins which represent the order of the Dominicans
Some people replace some of the fresh fruits above be melon or grapes.
Feast, historical facts and tradition meant to remember the true meaning of Christmas. While this is still a very common tradition to this day, especially in the south of France, most people add much more delicacies to it nowadays.
I hope you enjoyed this post, let us know what you think down below!
17 thoughts on “The 13 Desserts of Christmas An Old Christmas Tradition in France”
Wow, I never heard of that but I can totally get behind 13 desserts! Of course, my 13 would include a few cookies… this is a really interesting tradition though. I like the idea of having a celebration that is personal and meaningful. It’s better than all the usual commercialism. I bet one of your tarts would go really well in this list! I can’t believe they did all this after midnight mass. I would be dead in bed by then, but I guess if you’re enjoying yourself there is incentive to stay awake 🙂 It sounds like a celebration that probably lasted all night right through breakfast. Thanks for sharing this, it’s a lot of fun!
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Lovely article Sylviane.
We have become a couple of Francophiles after just one trip (to Lyon and then down to Vaison La Romaine) Not a big dessert fan myself but there is definitely something in amongst those to suit me.
PS we also stayed one night in Perouges so will take a look at that article as well. 🙂
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This was a great post Sylviane. I’m going to add this to our christmas diner but NO NOUGAT. “Je le Deteste”. But everything else will be easy to add to our diner
I have a question. In Quebec for good luck and to have money for the new year my tatty would make crêpes. She would even hold a 2 dollar coin in her hand as she made her crêpes jump in the pan. So far it has not worked. LOL. But do you do this in France too? This isn’t done in the rest of canada just quebec and usually by the older people..
Wow, I’m sorry you don’t like nougat, I love it, but I understand.
In France we usually don’t do crepes for Christmas, it more for la chandeleur which is in February. Now the crepes come from Normandy and Bretagne, so that makes sense that people in Quebec are big in crepes, that’s where their roots are the North Ouest region of France.
Okay now that was interesting. Please don’t be upset Sylviane but I think I’ll just stick to my good old chocolate… You know cookies, fudge, cakes and pies. I know, sinful…
But I love the traditions and I love that they have meaning. I think that’s something that a lot of people are missing. That’s why I love this post. Throw in more chocolate and I’m in! lol…
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I agree with you Adrienne, tradition is one thing, but I like more chocolaty things too. I jsut thought I had to write this post which is so appropriate for the season.
If you want chocolate, well just wait for my next post. Homemade chocolate delicacies that you should love, or so I hope 🙂
Oh yummy Sylviane, I can’t wait. Thanks for the heads up.
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I love this blog and I love learning more about French traditions. You have also inspired me my next post will be on Australian Christmas 🙂
I like the French ones though and I do like nougat is small pieces.
We do dried fruits and nuts here too and I love them and I love almost all fruit.
Thanks for sharing your tradition.
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WOW, thanks for the post.
I’m going to try these 13 deserts for the Christmas.
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Welcome here and I’m glad you enjoy this. Come back for more next Friday 🙂
If you put all those things near me then I am going to have tough time keeping my hands of the table. They look absolutely fabulous. Christmas is all about feasting and having fun.
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Thanks for coming and I’m glad you enjoy this post. My sweet tooth goes for even sweeter and more sinful desserts than those, but these are the real tradition.
This is something really interesting and something I never heard of. 13 desserts sounds really good. I love reading about the diifferent customs and traditons people follow in different countries during festivals. It was a delighful read. Thanks for sharing, Sylviane.
I’m glad you enjoyed it. It was fun writing it. Have a wonderful Holiday!
I read your blog its really interesting and impressive.
I am appreciate to your 13 desserts for Christmas Occasion.
But in all of them I love Pastry, White nougat and candied citron its my favorite.
These all desserts make Christmas celebration more special and enjoyable.
Thanks For Sharing this lovely blog..
This is such a beautiful tradition and one I never heard of. I just started thinking about christmas foods today, its right around the corner.
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hey sylviane! i don’t know baking but my mom do, so i will show these recipes to her and i am sure that she will make out delicious desserts. thanks for sharing such amazing recipes…keep on writing more posts on recipes.
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