La Fête des Rois, Feast of the Kings

Galette des Rois

Galette des Rois

Today is the feast of the Epiphanie (literally “revelation”) celebrating the travels of the three Magi, or Kings of the Orient, who followed a star to Bethlehem to visit Jesus a few days after the Nativity.

French Christmas celebrations conclude with the Epiphanie, and with the consumption of vast quantities of galettes des Rois, like the one to the left. They are made of puff pastry filled with marzipan. Each galette is sold with a gilded or silver cardboard crown and contains a fève (“fava bean.”) The fève is no longer a dry bean, but now consists in some decorative charm. My favorites are miniature Nativity scene figures. One must, of course, chew carefully not to break a tooth on the fève

When the galette is split between family members or friends, the person who draws the slice containing the fève becomes King or Queen, dons the cardboard crown and chooses a consort among the company. I must report that people cheat upon this occasion. For one thing, the galettes des rois are so delicious that they are eaten weeks before and after the actual celebration of the Epiphanie. Also, when the company comprises little ones, the person cutting the galette des Rois will always slyly try to locate the fève through the crust to give the winning slice to one of the children. I won’t name any names, but I know of a certain boy who was so delighted with his royal rank that he would keep the crown firmly planted on his head for the rest of the day and even refuse to take it off to go to bed.

This custom can be traced back to the Middle Ages, and may be older. Even the French Revolution could not defeat the popular affection for this festivity. To illustrate this post, a painting by Greuze, depicting a family of peasants partaking of a galette des Rois .

Greuze Gateau des Rois

Greuze epiphany Gateau des Rois

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