Christmas Collectible Figurines

By: Bernadette Dimitrov, The Hohoho Expert!

Ever heard of ‘santons'?
Well they are big for Christmas collectors in Europe. Santon is derived from the word 'santouon' which means 'little saint'. They are clay figures, hand painted and about 70 millimeter high representing 19th century French Provencal characters.

Christmas Collectible Figurines
Many people have a real passion for collecting these christmas figurines that it has become a collectible item. There are hundreds of different figures, animals and accessories from which to choose.

  • There are bakers, millers, fishermen, water carriers and even bear trainers! It is popular for most families to add a piece or two every year to their home collections.

  • Santon collections are considered family heirlooms which are passed down lovingly from parent to child through the generations. Each year families enjoy the fun of choosing a new addition or two for their collections.

History of Santons in France
Santon making is said to have began as a popular act of resistance during the French Revolution to the closing of churches during this time.

  • Creches were before the French Revolution big business and were displayed in the churches where crowds flocked to view the elaborate designs. With the churches closed the people's beloved creches were no longer available for public access.
  • It was Jean-Louise Lagnel (1764-1822) from Marseilles who started to make the beloved creche figures for people to purchase for display in their own homes. Jean-Louise was in demand with his affordable priced figures.
  • Jean-Louise Lagnel used the province of Marseille's and Aubagne's fine clay. He used small moulds and the casts were hand painted. It didn't take long for others to start perfecting his technique. The figures were referred to as 'creches for the people'. Soon santon makers added local characters and trades which became popular. The santon makers idea of using ordinary people from every day life on their way to pay homage to the Holy Family became an instant hit. Later santon fairs were held throughout regions.

Santon Makers

  • Today the oldest and also the largest Santon fair (founded in 1803) is still alive and popular in Marseille. It is held from Advent through to Epiphany. It is an event not to be missed!
  • Another popular event is the art of santon making. With workshops in many regions across Provence, visitors are welcomed as participants to browse and purchase. The same techniques that have been practiced for centuries are still practiced today. It is an opportunity to see first hand works of art in the making as well as the opportunity to purchase santons as prized presents or for one's home.

Where to Buy Santons
Marcel Carbonel is renowned as one of the oldest and most famous santon makers in Marseille in France today. Santon Boutiques and workshops including Marcel's are open all year. You can even purchase santons online from most major workshop stores and boutiques in their online stores. 

There are many Santons shops in France;

  • Santons in Marseille
    Atelier Arterra
    Cabanon des Accoules and
    Marcel Carbonel
  • Santons in Aubagne
    Lei Santoun Castelin Peirano
    Santons Magali
    Santons scaturro Daniel
  • Santons in Aix en Provence
    Santons Cavasse
    Santons Fouque
    Santons Jouve
    Santons Richard

As one would expect santon's are not cheap!

There are 2 types of Santon

  • 1) Santons 'd'argile'
    They hand painted clay figuresArticle Submission, in six different sizes (from one inch to six inches). These are the most popular for French collectors and especially in size 2.
  • 2) Santons 'habilles'
    They resembles small dolls dressed in cloth usually carrying everyday items such as baskets.

So why not introduce ‘santons' into your family this festive season. They are an opportunity to participate in a much beloved tradition that could soon become a tradition for your family. Collect and have fun. Share stories and folk tales related to the santons with your family and you too can enjoy this much beloved tradition today!

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