The Thirteen Desserts of Christmas – Les Treize Desserts de Noël

At Christmastime in Provence, in the south of France, there’s a tradition of having a Christmas meal consisting largely of vegetables, followed by 13 desserts. 13 signifies the number of people at the last supper – Christ and his 12 apostles. The table should be decorated with 3 candlesticks, representing the Trinity. The meal and dessert are eaten before the family goes to midnight mass on Christmas.

13 Desserts of Noel

Traditionally, a place was also left at the table for ones ancestors. The leftover food was left out all night. This way the ancestors could take part in the meal too. (There’s a similar Day of the Dead custom in Mexico, of leaving out food and a place at the table for ancestors.)

It is very important that there are at least 13 desserts – also called Les Treize Desserts de Noël. The 13 desserts can vary depending upon tradition. Generally, they are:

1. Black Nougats – Symbolizing evil – Hard candy made with honey and almonds.
2. White Nougats – Symbolizing good – Soft candy made with sugar, eggs, pistachios, honey, and almonds.

These four are supposed to symbolize beggars, represented by four religious orders (Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelite Nuns, Augustinians):

3. Dried Figs
4. Almonds
5. Hazelnuts or other nuts
6. Dried Grapes

The symbol of Mary and Jesus’ safe journey from the East:

7. Dates

Some of the other desserts eaten, depending on the region, are:

Quince Paste
Calissons d’Aix (almond-paste pastry with sugar icing)
Oil Cake called Fougasse or Pompe à l’huile (made with Orange Flower Water and Olive Oil)

Finally with these desserts, one drinks cooked wine, representing Jesus himself.

One must have a taste of each dessert to have good luck for the whole year.

Bon appétit!


Many thanks to Monique Palomares of Mama Lisa’s World en français for telling me about this tradition!

This article was posted on Thursday, December 21st, 2006 at 4:14 pm and is filed under Christmas, Countries & Cultures, Desserts, France, French, Holidays Around the World, Languages, Provence, Recipes of the World, The Thirteen Desserts of Christmas - Les Treize Desser. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

3 Responses to “The Thirteen Desserts of Christmas – Les Treize Desserts de Noël”

  1. Sandra Says:

    Thank you for a wonderful explanation of the french christmas meal tradition. I was fortunate to have partaken in the christmas meal in 2000. I will never forget all the lovingly prepared food I ate. Now that I know the meaning behind each of the dessert. It makes all thes e fond memories of france all the more meaningful!

  2. Monique Says:

    I’d like to add that this is not “The” French Christmas meal, that it’s “A” French Christmas meal, the one from Provence only. Even if France is a country a little smaller than Texas and we’re all French, we all speak French, we all learn the same things at school from North to South and from East to West, we come from different backgrounds: historically and culturally, Provence is not Brittany and Alsace is not Pays Basque, etc. etc. So our traditional dishes are different all over the country, well, like in every country I suppose.

  3. Seven Global Christmas Food Traditions Says:

    […] Provence, there’s a tradition to eat thirteen desserts with your Christmas meal, the significance tied to the number of people at the Last Supper. Before […]

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