One of the charming things about France is all the different holidays, traditions and customs. Just when you think one is over, another one pops its festive head up. January 6th, Epiphany is one of those days. It’s the one day you can become King for a day. Well sort of.
What is Epiphany day: Symbolic Meaning
Exactly 12 days after Christmas on January 6; people across France celebrate Epiphany day. The French have been celebrating Epiphany, since the fourteenth century. It celebrates the Three Wise Men who arrived in Bethlehem bearing gifts for baby Jesus.
Ties to Mardi Gras: If you are not familiar with epiphany, you most certainly must be familiar with Mardi Gras and Carnival! Epiphany also marks the first day of Carnival and a series of parties in Louisiana that eventually lead to Mardi Gras, ( Fat Tuesday). The last hurrah before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.
How To Celebrate: And Become King For A Day In France.
On Epiphany, young school children learn about the history behind epiphany day at school and the shelves of every single Boulanger in France are lined with rows of “gallette des rois” (King Cake).
Galette des rois is flattish puff pasty cake usually filled with apple or frangipane, a cream made from sweet almonds, butter, eggs and sugar. Hidden Inside each King cake is a small figurine called a fève which literally means bean in French. Originally an actual bean was put in the cakes, but around the 1870’s, it was replaced by porcelain figurines and more recently sometimes by plastic toys.
In Montreal there are still bakers that actually put beans in their king cake. I think bakers in Louisiana put a small baby, representing the Christ Child, in the cake.
The tradition is simple and quick. You cut slices of the cake and hand them out at a small get together or with your family. Whoever finds the figurine in their slice becomes King for a day and will have to buy and offer the next cake. There are some special things that make this tradition charming.
- A paper crown is always included with the cake to crown the “king” or “Queen” who finds the fève in their piece of cake.
- If there are children, it is tradition that the youngest be placed under the table and randomly says who gets the next slice. This is the part that the kids love the most and it’s also a way to ensure that the slices are handed out randomly.
In the south of France where we live, there is a second type of king cake called gâteau des Rois (also means king cake) or couronne des Rois ( which means kings crown).This second type is similar in texture and shape to the King cake found in Louisiana.
Instead of puff pastry, the cake is a brioche which is more bread or cake like. It is also not filled with frangipane. Instead it’s topped with candied fruit and white sugar to make it look like an actual crown with jewels.
And that is how you become King (or Queen) for a day in France.
You don’t need to come to France to be King for a day. You can make King cake yourself, Louisiana style.
So did you know about Epiphany and or its tie to Carnival and Mardi Gras?
Stay tuned for the next tradition coming soon; National Crepe Day: everything you wanted to know about this very French tradition including how to make crepes at home