In France, the nativity scene or crèche is the most important feature of a home’s Christmas decorations. The tradition of terra cotta figurines was particularly strong in Provence, where each year a new character is added to the traditional nativity scene. There are an assortment of townspeople, animals, and buildings for the people who really get into it. We thought it would be fun to begin our own collection of these santons.
We bought ours at a Christmas market in Paris while we lived there. They are available painted or unfinished. We liked the unfinished ones, with the idea that I would paint them up how we liked. You can see the stamp of the workshop that made the pieces on the bottom of each one.
For some reason, as seems to happen with several of my crafty good intentions, I never got around to it. When we unpacked our Christmas decorations after Thanksgiving this year, I pulled out the little sack of santons and vowed that this would be the year that I’d paint them.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had painted one sheep and a donkey already. Hey, that’s a start.
I don’t know why I waited so long to do this. It really didn’t take that long and I really enjoyed it.
The clay really soaked up the paint, so I could give each piece multiple coats back-to-back. Once the color covered well enough, there was still something not quite right about them. I decided the color looked flat. So, for each piece, I dipped my brush into a darker color and then a lot of water, making a wash, and painted over the whole thing. The darker color settled into the crevices, while the water kept it thin enough not to obscure the original color. I think it worked out pretty well!
Now I need to make my santons a little stable to live in. We’ve got some nice flat pieces of bark around here that I think would work well! If I ever get it done this year, I’ll put up photos.
In French tradition, Baby Jesus is removable. He is not placed in the manger until late on Christmas Eve (after the kids have gone to sleep) or first thing Christmas morning. I kind of like that idea!