Recently, when I was at the Christmas “santon” fairs looking at all of the little figures that make up the Nativity scenes in southern France, there was one that puzzled me. She was a young woman in traditional dress – nothing strange about that. But she was bending over and holding up the back of her skirt to show her bottom – now that is unusual. Who was this woman and what was her place in the Christmas crèche? Come to find out, her name is Fanny and she has a key role to play in the game of pétanque.
For those not familiar with pétanque, here is a very simplistic description: It is a game similar to lawn bowling which is played in southern France. It’s played on special pétanque courts, in parks or anywhere there is a small flat bit of space. A little ball called the cochonnet is thrown out first. Then the players throw their balls, trying to get them as close as possible to the cochonnet. Of course, the rules are more complicated than that but, basically, points are allocated based on closeness to the cochonnet and the first team to reach 13 points wins. This is where Fanny comes in.
A girl named Fanny
The original Fanny was a kind-hearted young lady who worked in a café near a pétanque court in the mid 1800s. Whenever a team suffered the humiliation of losing a game 13 to 0 (meaning that they had scored no points during the entire game) her heart would go out to them and to ease their pain, she would allow each of them to kiss her on the cheek.
One day the mayor of the village was playing pétanque outside the café and he was having a really bad day. His team lost the game 13 to 0 and he went to Fanny to be consoled. But, for some reason, she despised this mayor and instead of offering him her cheek to kiss, she stepped up onto a chair, bent over and lifted her skirt. I can just hear her saying, “you can kiss this!” The mayor was surprised but he was up to the challenge and, to the amusement of everyone, two loud kisses rang out through the café.
The precedent is set
The next time a team lost 13 to 0 and went to see Fanny for consolation, they declined the offer to kiss her lovely face. They wanted to plant a kiss in the same place as the mayor! And soon that was the preferred kissing location for all defeated teams. This new ceremony quickly spread throughout the world of pétanque and women all over the south of France carried on the tradition established by the first sympathetic young pétanque supporter called Fanny.
But at some point there was a shortage of compassionate female pétanque fans willing to continue this practice and the pétanque clubs had to resort to posters or sculptures representing Fanny. The ceremony of “kissing Fanny” is still observed today. Sometimes a bell is rung to announce the shameful loss and to call others to come and watch. The losers, often on their knees, have to kiss Fanny (or her representation) and then they normally have to buy drinks – “Fanny pays!”
In almost every pétanque club you will find an image of a woman representing Fanny. She hangs on the wall and waits to console the heavy-hearted defeated ones. In remembrance of the original pétanque groupie, her name has been given to the act of losing 13 to 0. Those that find themselves in that sad situation are said to “kiss Fanny” or “to be Fanny”.
So that is how one young lady made her unique contribution to a sport that is so important it has even been known to stop the tram when a game spilled over onto the tracks. Given this game’s place in village life and Fanny’s connection to it, I guess it is only right that she is represented as a “santon” and has the opportunity to participate in the Christmas crèche along with all of the other villagers.
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- Photo 1: Santon of Fanny – Santons Magali, Aubagne
- Photos 2 – 3: Chez Nectarine Blog
- Photo 4: Public Domain – Wikimedia Commons