In Provence, the first Nativity plays were mechanical crèches which appeared at the end of the XVIIIth century. At the beginning of the XIXth century, puppet crèches became popular and performances evolved to the point that mechanical exploits and imaginary situations took precedence over the religious. Pastorals superseded this type of popular theatre of which the most celebrated was written in 1844 in Provencal by Antoine Maurel and which has been performed every year since.
The custom of the family crèche sprang up in Marseilles at the beginning of the XIXth century with small clay santons created by santonniers or santon makers. A whole world of non-biblical characters appears with Jesus: these are the poor people of Marseille. Except for the Virgin, Saint Joseph and the Wise Men, the santons wear traditional Marseilles costumes.