Epiphany – the Day of the Kings – in France


Galette des Rois (PhotoXpress_Nath Photos)

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 the Statistics Freak and gave him a smacking kiss on each cheek. This has not happened before, but the SF 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.

During le tirage du rois (or cutting of the cake), the person who finds the fève is named king or queen for the day and is given a cardboard crown to wear, provided with the cake by the boulangerie. The monarch also chooses a consort.

My fève

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. 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 do without the cake.

Copyright © 2011 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved


About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
This entry was posted in Customs, Food/drink/recipes, French life and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Epiphany – the Day of the Kings – in France

  1. juliaspahn says:

    My husband and I lived in Normandy our first year of marriage. We love the tradition and the galette. Bonne Année!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      I’m very fond of Normandy – especially the food! – and have spent some lovely holidays there in the past. We live down south now. Since I wrote this post, a few years ago, I have developed more of a taste for the galette. Meilleurs voeux à vous aussi.


  2. Catherine Stock says:

    I LOVE the frangipani galette. Do you heat yours before eating it? Makes all the difference in the world. Then it’s buttery and fragrant with light and flakey pastry…and very fattening.

    Forget it. You’re better off disliking it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • nessafrance says:

      I’ve never bought one, actually, so haven’t had an opportunity to heat it. I imagine it might be better that way. I don’t really have a sweet tooth, so I can happily live without it!


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  4. Like you, i don’t like the frangipane version of galette des rois but love the brioche style with crunchy sugar on top and, maybe, a little chopped peel within. I ‘won’ the feve at our english/french group, a tiny charlie chaplin figure marked ‘charlot’, not particularly lovely unlike the specially commissioned ‘sevres’ porcelain one i saw on france3 on friday lunchtime. My biggest worry is always that i might break a tooth on the feve as i devour just one more slice! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      We had the inevitable galette des rois at an association AGM on Friday evening, but it was actually quite a good one: light and without too much filling. I have seen an alternative version advertised in a magazine, consisting of hazelnut cream, bitter orange and chocolate. That’s much more in my line! Except I’m on a diet this month…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Stephanie says:

    What a lovely feve! I have to confess I am addicted to Galette des Rois, especially with ice-cream,
    Bonne santé for 2011


    • nessafrance says:

      Ice-cream, eh? Sounds like heart attack on a plate to me! But then I have to admit I’m not much of a pudding person, preferring cheese (also heart attack on a plate if you’re not careful).
      Happy blogging in 2011 and bonne santé to you as well.


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