Epiphany, the Day of the Kings, in France


Galette des Rois, the Kings’ cake, traditionally eaten in France at Epiphany. Copyright PhotoXpress


This is another of my contributions to Christmas with the Crooked Cats, our seasonal serving of short stories, poetry and non-fiction articles. The Twelve Days of Christmas are almost over, but our event goes on until 9th January.

Epiphany takes place tomorrow, but Crooked Cat friend Sue Barnard will be posting then, so here is an avant-première about this festival. This was originally published on my French life blog, Life on La Lune.

This week has been marked by traditional visits to neighbours to offer good wishes for the New Year. Everyone utters the set formulae: Bonne Année or Meilleurs Voeux, with the talisman phrase appended, “Surtout pour la santé” (above all, for good health).

Good wishes are accompanied by blizzards of kisses and handshakes. At the market on Tuesday, our friend René bore down on my husband and gave him a smacking kiss on each cheek. This has not happened before, but the OH took it like a man.

But before the cold reality of January sets in, there is one further event associated with Christmas in France: Epiphany, when the three magi visited Jesus and offered him gifts. In France, it is celebrated either on 6th January (Twelfth Night) or on the first Sunday in January.

Being France, there is naturally a special food associated with the occasion. This is la Galette des Rois (the Kings’ cake). The recipe varies between regions, apparently, but around here, it is made of glazed pastry and filled with almond paste.

What is special about this cake (which, frankly, I find rather uninteresting to eat) is that a fève, or fava bean, is baked into it. These days it is more common to find a porcelain figurine or trinket inside, still known as the fève. Some people have collections of them.

During le tirage du rois (the “draw” for the king), when the cake is cut, the person who finds the fève is named king or queen for the day. They are given a cardboard crown to wear, supplied with the cake by the boulangerie. The monarch also chooses a consort.

In fact, the French eat la Galette des Rois throughout January, not just at Epiphany. A couple of years ago, we were invited to dinner with French friends and some other guests provided the galette for pudding.

My fève, a tiny porcelain coffee grinder


When she cut the cake, Marie-Jo, by sleight of hand, made sure that I drew the fève. It was a tiny porcelain coffee grinder, which I still have (see photo above). I received my crown and nominated our host Jean-François as my consort.

A rather nice tradition; although I can live without the cake.

Copyright © Vanessa Couchman 2015. All rights reserved.




Published by Vanessa in France

We moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I'm fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs. I also write historical novels and short stories.

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