Christmas Eve was the occasion when all the members of a family would gather at their parents’ home to perform as a preliminary to the evening meal, the rite of the olive branch.
Before sitting down, the youngest of the guests, or the oldest, soaked an olive branch in a glass of old wine. They would then approach the fireplace where a great fire of pine and laurel branches burned, and with his little branch traced the sign of the Cross while pronouncing a few words on the virtues of the olive tree, a source of all kinds of good things.
After this, everybody in turn wet their lips in the glass of wine serving as an aperitif.
The gala dinner’s main dish was an enormous “brandamincium” a Monégasque dish of salt cod pounded up with garlic, oil and cream, surrounded by “cardu”, cardoon in white sauce; “Barbagiuan”, stuffed fritters and “fougasses” flat crunchy biscuits sprinkled with sugared aniseed coloured red and white, flavoured with several drops of rum and orange-flower water.
On the table covered with a splendid cloth lay a round loaf of bread “u pan de Natale” – the Christmas loaf – on which four walnuts formed a cross surrounded by several olive twigs.
There are still some elements from this celebration of Christmas that have survived besides the Midnight Mass in the Cathedral, “Barbagiuan”, “fougasses” and “u pan de Natale” which can be found at some bakeries in the Principality.
On the 24th of December each year, the Principality widely offers the U Pan de Natale (Monaco’s Traditional Christmas Bread). On this day, the Committee for the preservation of Monaco’s Traditions requests all bakers whose bread is baked in the Principality to sell “U Pan de Natale” following with the recipe and presentation instructions left by Lazare Sauvaigo – a late Monégasque poet, historian, public speaker and former vice-president of the above Committee.