Make your own Santons de Provence

Make your own Santons de Provence

Come learn about Santons de Provence, a beautiful French Christmas tradition. Then make your own French-inspired nativity scene with a little clay, paint, and creativity!

The idea of a nativity scene began with Saint Francis in Italy in the 1200s.  He brought together real people and animals to create a living nativity. Churches over the years have displayed large nativity scenes.

When there was a revolution in France in the 1700s, it was sometimes not possible for people to go to church. The French people started making small nativity scenes for their homes.

In the 1800s, Santons de Provence began to become famous in the south of France.  Santons (meaning “little saints”) are commonly made of clay and painted by hand.

Santons de provence villagers

Santons de Provence nativity scenes include not only the Holy Family, but also many other people (such as a baker, a teacher, a doctor, a mom and her child, and countless other people).

Santons de Provence remind us that we are all called to come adore the Christ Child in the manger.

Santons de Provence

Santons de Provence remind us that we are all called to come adore the Christ Child in the manger.

Our family’s Santons de Provence collection began with baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and a donkey, and over the years it has grown. Each year we add a new figure or two. Sometimes the added figure relates to our life that year, for example a mother and a child when a new baby was born in our family, and an apothecary during the COVID pandemic. Our scene also includes Saint Francis, as he is a dear saint to our family and to remember that he began the idea of nativity scenes.

Having a Santons de Provence collection is a beautiful Christmas tradition. Our family looks forward to setting out the scene each Advent, and the first thing we do on Christmas morning is to come to see that baby Jesus has been placed in the stable. 

If you are interested in starting your own collection, and planning a trip to France is not a possibility, there are a number of online stores that sell Santons de Provence. We have ordered Santons from Santons de France USA for many years.

If you would like to create your own Santons de Provence-inspired nativity scene, keep reading to learn about a few ways to create your own nativity scene.

Ready to create your own Santons?

Santons de Provence are typically made from clay, so for authentic but simple material for making your own santons, we recommend terra cotta color air dry clay. Once it dries, the clay can be painted with acrylic paint. You may want to use clay tools for more detailed work.

diy santons de provence

Despite air dry clay being a more authentic material, we have found that using Model Magic makes for a project that avoids mess and also creates sturdy figures (ready for little hands to play with!). Here is a link for a class pack of Model Magic (in our family, we love having this on hand for many fun projects), but small packages are also available.

Toothpicks may be helpful to support the clay as it dries and to add details or texture.

Model Magic can be painted after it dries with watercolor paint. Any watercolor paint will work, but higher quality water color may work best. If the figures are small, fine-tipped paint brushes will be helpful for details.

diy santons de provence

Part of the fun of making your own Santons de Provence inspired nativity is that figures can be created that are special to you and your life. For example, our 11-year old loves bunnies, baking, and playing the guitar, so she created some new santons to add to her collection this year inspired by these loves. Making a patron saint figure would also be lovely. Of course making your own santons does not mean they need to look exactly like Santons de Provence, you can create your own style, as our daughter did.

diy santons de provence
diy santons de provence
diy santons de provence

Before making your own Santons de Provence inspired nativity, you might enjoy watching some authentic Santons de Provence creators at work in France. We’ve gathered up a collection of videos below that show the creators at work. The videos are in French, so if you are new to French, just watch (and perhaps you’ll recognize a French words too!). You’ll be able to see the great variety of santons that are made. You’ll also see that santons are made using a molds in order to mass produce many of the same type of santon. However, the molds are produced from originally sculpting a santon out of clay, so for making your own santons, you will not need a mold… just create your own originals by sculpting your clay. 

We hope you enjoy making your own Santons de Provence-inspired nativity scenes, or perhaps start an authentic Santons de Provence nativity collection to add even more joy to the Christmas season! 

Joyeux Noël !

Que Dieu vous


santons de provence

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