Saint Peter’s Day in Sainte-Maxime
26 May 2016
Celebrate Fishermen and the Sea at this Traditional Fête
Saint Peter’s Day is one of the most significant fêtes in the Christian calendar – especially to those living near the sea. For fishermen and others whose livelihoods depend on the ocean, Saint Peter is their patron saint, watching over them and guiding them through their lives on the waves. It is hardly surprising then, that in Sainte-Maxime, the annual Saint Pierre celebrations are enthusiastically marked each June. Locals and visitors alike are encouraged to take part in their thanksgiving ceremonies to this important saint and aspect of their lives.
A Worldwide Celebration of the Sea
The Feast Day of Saint Peter falls on 29th June – the day typically marked as his birthday. According to the bible, Peter was himself a fisherman so he has traditionally become associated with the sea and is thought to answer the prayers of fishermen. Whilst not celebrated everywhere in the Christian world, this midsummer fête is prominent in seaside communities in many Christian nations. It is observed around Britain, in the USA and Canada, Rome, Switzerland and is even a public holiday in Malta – a nation proud of its fishing heritage.
In Southern France, where fishing and the ocean are key parts of life for many people, the festival is celebrated with local traditions. In Sainte-Maxime, a series of customs are observed and will be of interest to those who have not celebrated Saint Peter’s Day previously. It’s also the perfect excuse to sample a range of the town’s delicious seafood dishes and visitors will notice special fish menus pop up all over town to mark the occasion.
Celebrations in Sainte-Maxime
For a more local, traditional experience of this festival, head to the Eglise Sainte-Maxime – the central church in the town - for Mass. All are welcome to this service and it is expected to last between 6pm and 7pm on 29th June. From the church, the congregation will be led in a procession down to the harbour pier. This is a really special moment, especially on a warm June evening – locals and visitors mingle together and the atmosphere is subdued yet festive. The priests will lead the way and show spectators what to do and where to stand.
Once at the harbour, members of the church will lead a special religious procession into the sea and bless the boats; speaking prayers and singing hymns between 7:30pm – 8:30pm. This is a magical aspect of the evening and one everyone can enjoy, whether religious or not. The blessing of the boats urges their safe return to shore after days fishing at sea, as well as the hope that their yield will be abundant. As the sky darkens, spectators will follow the procession away from the harbour and towards the area where Lei Magnoti – the local folklore group responsible for entertainment on many fête days – are gathered.
Around 9pm, the folk group will perform traditional dances and burn the ‘sharp’ on the city centre beach to entertain the crowds and end the formal Saint Peter’s Day rituals. These traditions go back centuries and it is fascinating to see history brought to life in these enduring customs. As with many festivals in Sainte-Maxime, they know how to finish the night in style – a ball will be held at the Theatre of the Sea from 9:30pm, complete with an orchestra to help guests dance the night away. Entry is free and after such a night of culture and thanksgiving, visitors are sure to be more grateful than ever for the sea and all that it holds. Make the most of your trip to Sainte-Maxime in June – attend these stunning celebrations and sample as much of the local seafood as you possibly can!
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