Le pastrage, or la fête des bergers (lah fet day bersjair), which means “the shepherds’ celebration”, is a rural Provence tradition celebrated on December 24. The word pastrage comes from pastre, “shepherd” in the Provençal language. In honor of the Christmas story, when shepherds were the first to come worship the Christ child, the head shepherd chooses the most beautiful lamb and places it in a small wagon decorated with boxwood, ribbons, and candles. In some villages, the wagon is filled with gifts and the youngest shepherd carries the lamb in his arms. After the Gros Souper, everyone leaves for midnight mass: a ewe, the lamb’s mother, pulls the wagon and the shepherds follow it down to the village, where they announce the birth of baby Jesus. The villagers join the parade with gifts, candles, and musical instruments.
The group heads to the church to offer the lamb and other gifts like fruit and bread to baby Jesus (in the crèche). Midnight mass begins with the priest taking the lamb in his arms and telling the story of the shepherds on that first Christmas.
There aren’t many shepherds left today, but you can still see la fête des bergers in many French villages, including the extremely picturesque Saint Rémy de Provence. Joyeux Noël, tout le monde!
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