1996 KEN MACKENZIE
WRITER'S AWARD WINNER
by George W. Rohrer, CPC #1499
Pierre, a jovial Provençal native transplanted to Ohio,
recalls some of his early days in Salon-de-Provence. Several weeks before Christmas,
families began bringing down little boxes from the attic and unloading the "Little
Saints." The little clay figures, retrieved from drawers and boxes will be arranged
to create the Nativity scene. Monaco and France have issued attractive stamps that portray
these santons of southern France.
In years past only the Holy Family were represented. Mary, Jesus, and Joseph are pictured
on Monaco 1919, 1920, and 1921. The ox and the donkey were included as well as the angel
that appeared to the shepherds. (Mary, Scott 1919; Jesus, Scott 1920; Joseph, Scott 1921;
Ox, Scott 1885; Donkey, Scott 1883.)
Today the crèche embraces dozens of villagers, country folk, and trades-people who are
bringing gifts to the Christ Child. Some, like the miller, the baker, and the spinner,
offer the practical gifts of food and raiment.
Families used to make many of their figurines at home. As the popularity of santons
spread, the number of professional artisans increased. There is now an association of
santonniers with a membership of sixty companies. The largest are the Ateliers Marcel
Carbonel, in Marseille, and Paul Fouque in Aix-en-Provence. All display their wares at the
annual santon fairs in Marseille, Aix, and Aubagne in the expectation of tempting visitors
to enlarge their collections. (Angel, Scott 1452; Shepherd, Scott B664; Miller, Scott
B665; Baker, Scott 1739; Spinner, Scott 1451;
In the crèche people from all walks of life come to the manger offering their gifts and
talents. An old woman is bearing a bundle of firewood. An elderly couple is approaching
the stable, while not far away a fishmonger, a blind man, a garlic vendor, a knife
grinder, and a basket maker are all bringing their offerings. A familiar figure is le ravi
with his arms in the air, overcome with joy. Among the dignitaries are the consul, the
mayor, and the Arlésienne. The city of Arles is famous for its beautiful women and was
the setting for Bizet's l'Arlésienne music. The Garde Champêtre, or constable, is on
hand to offer protection. (Wood Bearer, Scott 1738; Elderly Couple, Scott B669;
Fishmonger, Scott B667; Blind Man, Scott 1449; Garlic Vendor, Scott 1453; Knife Grinder,
Scott B669; Basket Maker, Scott 1838; Le Ravi, Scott 1450; Consul, Scott 1766; Mayor,
Scott 1768; Arlésienne, Scott 1767; Garde Champetre, Scott 1840.)
Provençaux are not at all disturbed by anachronisms. The santonnier Paul Fouque of Aix
recently produced a two-piece set of the artist Paul Cézanne at his easel. Appropriately,
the painting on his canvas is the famed Mont Sainte-Victoire (Figure 1). Figure 2 shows a
catalog illustration of a mas or farmhouse that will be the base for the Nativity scene.
(Illustrations not shown on this Web Page.)
Santons are produced in several standard sizes. The smallest is the puce, or flea size.
Others measure 1 , 2, and 4 inches. The Ateliers Marcel Carbonel employ a staff of nearly
fifty skilled artisans. When the clay figure is released from the mold it is fired for
twelve hours before being painted. The colors, applied by hand, are selected from more
than one-hundred shades.
Some of the ateliers are producing santons sculpted of wood. The dolls are dressed in
cotton prints displaying Provençal patterns. These santons, from six to eight inches
tall, are seldom seen in the household crèche. French stamps B503 and B504 portray this
To maintain complete accuracy, the three kings should not be set in place until Twelfth
Night, January 6, the Epiphany, when the Wise Men are reported to have arrived in
The Monaco Post Office has obligingly supplied the Magi in a timely issue of October 24,
1996. Balthazar, Gaspard, and Melchior are important elements in the Provençal Christmas
Another long held tradition is the Yule Log, or Bûche de Noël. This practice, not
uniquely Provençal, is necessarily more prevalent in rural areas than in the sections of
high rises that are uglifying the Mediterranean coast. Much in vogue is the pastry Bûche
de Noel. The log is made of a rolled-up sponge cake. The chocolate coating is mixed to
approximate the color of tree bark. The number and quality of embellishments are in
proportion to ingenuity of the cook.
Interest in santons has spread beyond Provence. The figures are in demand in Paris and
elsewhere in France. There are several distributing agencies in the United States.
Assembling a collection of santons can be increasingly costly. Today the price of a single
one of the 2 3/4 inch size will be at least $15.00. Besides the stable and selections from
the scores of little people available, the scene may include a windmill, stream, bridge,
well, trees, rocks, fences, animals, and a whole village. Fortunate are those who began to
collect their little saints decades ago.
Ateliers Carbonel, Marseille
LeMonde des Philatelistes, October/November 1995
Michelin Green Guide, Provence
Michelin Regional Map #84
Post Office, Salon-de-Provence
Santons de Provence, Fouque, Aix-en-Provence
Service Philatelique de la Poste, Paris
The Yule Log is edited by Jon Mills of Ottawa, Ontario. Christine Sanders of Englewood, Florida is the club's
The invitation to
membership in the Christmas Philatelic Club is open to any Christmas topical philatelist
who is seriously interested in associating with those who collect likewise.
Current dues are $20 per
year for persons living in North America. Other Countries: $30.00 (US funds). Send an
international money order in US dollars.
Applications for membership
are available from Secretary/Treasurer Jim Balog, PO Box 744, Geneva, Ohio 44042-0744 USA or complete this Application Form and send it to the secretary's address..
For a sample issue of the Yule Log, send
P.O. Box 744