Join in on the French holiday tradition of the Feast of the Three Kings.
When the twelve days of Christmas are over, and you can’t imagine what else you could possibly want— after partridges in pear trees and drummers drumming—the French have an answer: a chance to be king (or queen) for a day. Welcome to the great French holiday tradition of the galettes des rois. This is the feast of the Epiphany, also known as Little Christmas, when people around the world celebrate the arrival of the three kings to the manger where Jesus was born.
Shortly before January 6, the official date of Epiphany, bakeries around France fill their windows with round, glazed frangipani-filled pies sold with a gold-foil crown. This is the famous galette des rois, or king’s cake. Eating it comes with a whole set of traditions.
First, gather your friends and family around a table. Then, choose the youngest of the bunch to hide under the table while another person is designated the official galette-cutter. Your galette must be cut into as many slices as there are people to be served. As each piece is cut, the cutter asks the person under the table “Who is this piece for?” The youngest calls out the names of each guest, one by one, until everyone is served. Then the youngest can emerge from under the table and enjoy his/her slice of galette along with everybody else. Now comes the fun part.
Hidden somewhere in someone’s slice of galette is a fève, or trinket that was tucked in before baking. Fève means “bean” in French, and originally, that is what was hidden in the cake: a broad bean. But starting in the late 19th century, a porcelain trinket replaced the bean, usually in the shape of a baby Jesus. Today, it can be anything from a cartoon character to a shoe, which is so much more fun.
Whoever gets the fève is designated king – or queen – for the day, and wears the gold-foil crown. But, they also have to buy the next galette and keep the game going, until there are no more left for the buying. But you’ll find the delicious galettes in bakeries through to the end of the month.
Nowadays, fèves are porcelain trinkets in just about any shape you can imagine, from storybook characters to animals to objects.
Fèves themselves have become a collector’s item in France and can go for exorbitant amounts depending on its age and rarity. Regardless, you won’t find one in the giant galette served up at the French presidential palace by Monsieur le Président himself each year. Imagine the risk of letting an elected official get the fève and declaring himself a king! The French simply won’t have it, even as a simple joke, which just goes to show how the ideals of the French Revolution are alive and well today.
From all of us here at Paris Muse, Joyeux Noël, and Bonne fête de l’Epiphanie!