Les Santons de Charlevoix

Les Santons de Charlevoix

Many years ago, while travelling through the Province of Quebec’s Charlevoix region, I came upon a wonderful shop nestled in the small town of St. Joseph de la Rive, called Les Santons de Charlevoix, where they make beautiful Nativity scene figurines.

Also known as crèches throughout the world since the 18th century, the tradition goes back to 1223 at Greccio, Italy, and is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. The display of Jesus lying in a Manger, with Mary and Joseph on either side; the donkey and the cow; the three wise kings and shepherds with their sheep, are the essential figurines that make up a crèche but most Nativity scenes also include an accompanying display of houses and vignettes of village life. One of the most beautiful is the Neapolitan crèche yearly displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Crèches can be displayed at home but also in churches during Advent in many parts of the world where Christmas is celebrated. St. James Cathedral, in Toronto, for example, has a seasonal display of crèches from around the world.  In its 20th year, this year’s display includes crèches from Estonia, Finland, Russia, China, Thailand, India, and many other countries.

When I visited Les Santons de Charlevoix I could not resist buying a Crèche Québécois. I display it from the first week of Advent until Epiphany – often referred to as The Feast of the Three Kings – celebrated 12 days after Christmas. I add my Portuguese crèche figurines of clay to the mix and take great delight in combining a French-Canadian tradition with that of my Portuguese heritage.

In a small fishing village, Pugwash, in Nova Scotia, the Seagull Pewter company, makes beautifully handcrafted Nativities out of pewter. My partner, Stephen, who collects pewter, has one of their exquisitely beautiful Nativity Tryptic which he purchased over three years with money his Grandma would give him for Christmas. It is one of his prized possessions, as this crèche is a tangible link to the memory of a grandmother he adored.

Of all the symbols and ornamentation of Christmas, it is the crèche, or presépio in Portuguese, that brings me the most comfort as I remember Christmases of the past.

Feliz Natal!

Les Santons de Charlevoix shop display

Les Santons de Charlevoix shop display

My Crèche Québécois with Azorean figurines on either side

Christmas card, Silhouette Nativity 2019

The Nativity : Watercolours by Borje Svensson, adapted from the eighteenth-century Neapolitan Christmas crèche at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. A three-dimensional pop-up book published by Kestrel Books, London, 1981

Christmas card, pop-up three-dimensional crèche, 2019

Seagull Pewter Nativity: In memory of Grace McLean

About thetorzorean

The musings of a torontonian azorean on identity and belonging. You can find me at https://thetorzorean.com/
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5 Responses to Les Santons de Charlevoix

  1. Feliz Natal to you and Stephen! I especially love the French Canadian carvings and the Seagull Pewter. Wonderful that you can both share your heritage through art at this meaningful time of year.


  2. Carol Wells-Gordon says:

    Thanks for posting the photos of these lovely creches. They really are sweet expressions of the Christmas story and show how each culture celebrates the nativity in its own beautiful way. Your Azorean figures seem to fit quite well with the French-Canadian figures. Merry Christmas to you and Stephen.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Humberto says:

    Great piece on the nativity scene. I find the nativity scenes reflecting the political realities of current refugees to be an enlightening display at Christmas. Many churches are protesting by putting the holy family in segregated cages, much as today’s refuges find themselves.


  4. Ilda says:

    Loved the crèches, Emanuel! I no longer put up a Christmas tree, but the old crèche, o presépio, comes out as it has for the last sixty plus years, and it’s the strongest link with Christmases past.


  5. Pingback: A Different Christmas | Emanuel Melo torontonian azorean writer

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